This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons: Season 29 Episode 2
Run for your cultural lives, The Simpsons season 29, episode 2, “Springfield Splendor,” skewers avant garde theater, already a skewering of an art form at its best. And between the two disruptions, they set it right. It’s going to take a lot of therapy for Lisa to get over her artistic rivalry with her mom, and the best remedy psychology has to offer is art therapy. It is especially effective when prescribed by a student therapist.
Invest in education. Hire a student professional. They’re learning to be competent practitioners of whatever specialties they took some classes in. Lenny hired a student dentist, who fitted him with a removable cap. Lenny hired a student paralegal to sue the student dentist and lost. It looks like Lenny didn’t learn a thing. It’s not that all of them don’t know what they’re doing. The student dog groomer trains Bart into quite a good dog.
The art therapy brings out latent talents and psychic wounds. Marge is quite the artist. Ringo Starr liked one of her fan paintings and that don’t come easy. Montgomery Burns, the wealthiest man in Springfield, once hired her for his official portrait. Burns, a man of taste, knows what he hates. And he didn’t hate Marge’s painting. Bart and Homer have already gone down this road, from a different angle, with their Mad Dad comic books.
“Springfield Splendor” is based on the comic book series American Splendor, which were written by sad sack Harvey Pekar and drawn by Robert Crumb and some other artists. Pekar became something of a sensation, appearing to annoy David Letterman at irregular intervals and being immortalized by Paul Giamatti in the 2003 film American Splendor. Cleveland file clerk Pekar caught the neurotic need to control an uncontrollable world in the most mundane of settings. Lisa fights a losing battle and her mom turns it into art.
Lisa’s fragile psyche is being crushed under the weight of her own expectations. Finding she can’t articulate her frustrations visually, she dictates to Marge a regular day in the life of a very sad little girl, who draws like an eight-year-old. Lunch is hard for a sad vegetarian in a meat-byproduct world. Lunch Lady Doris blows her nose in the lettuce and puts it back in the vegetable bin, showing not only casual disregard for the students but for the lettuce and all vegetables everywhere. Finding a friend to sit with is a miserable frustration and even the twins close rank.
Selling books that depress young readers is like shooting fish in a barrel, to paraphrase The Simpsons. When Lisa’s innermost feelings are unleashed as a graphic novel it captures the zeitgeist of the times. The book becomes a small-town smash, and the Sad Girl at the center becomes a sensation. Of course, Lisa’s first reaction is to indulge in some parentally-approved Tier 1 cursing, which is even less satisfying the second time around, nearly driving Comic Book Guy’s girlfriend into a Furry cosplay hari kari demise. Before you think that’s just a kink reference, Kumiko explains there’s nothing sexy about shame. Except in Japan where it’s a thing.
But once Marge and Lisa bond over lightning rounds of “Hot Sharpie,” their collaboration blooms into a successful series. The elder Marge is overlooked at comic-cons, fails the Bechter test but her drawings catch the eye of theatrical producer Guthrie Frenel, because there’s no way a Broadway musical could fail.
While Bart and Homer cross their fishing lines in an Andy Griffith Show parody, Marge and Lisa ride the seesaw of a successful partnership. First, the ever-underappreciated Marge tries to branch into her own POV stories. Lisa read the synopses and flubs that she sees a lot of great stuff. This is perfect because this is exactly what Marge was going for. This encapsulates an essence of Marge’s humor, the hysterical beauty in the obvious. Julie Kavner can bring the most intellectually infused enthusiasm to the most mundane of generalizations. It is a wonder of simplicity.
Some of the funniest bits on The Simpson happen without dialogue. The animated movements of the director Guthrie Frenel while he is first experiencing the house on Evergreen Terrace are as vibrant as Martin Short himself. He leaps, peaks, fondles and tweaks the entire household just as he does the story at the center of Marge and Lisa’s novel. He has no respect for boundaries and the frenetic drawings capture his anti-commercial sensibility. The show itself a mess of dank symbolism and overly sensational music, he is still crestfallen when the trades phone in a bad review.
The Simpsons’ “Springfield Splendor” is a solid entry in the film and genre parody portfolio of the show, but not quite a classic. It brings up issues that have been long repressed after prior episodes, but Marge’s drawings bring a deeper heart to it.
“Springfield Splendor” was written by Tim Long and Miranda Thompson, and directed by Matthew Faughnan.
The Simpsons stars Dan Castellaneta as Homer and Abe Simpson, Julie Kavner as Marge Simpson, Nancy Cartwright as Bart Simpson, Yeardley Smith as Lisa Simpson. Hank Azaria plays Kirk Van Houten, Chief Wiggum and Moe. Harry Shearer is Kent Brockman, C. Montgomery Burns and Waylon Smithers. Guest stars: Alison Bechdel as herself, Rachel Bloom as herself, Roz Chast as herself, Dan Harmon as himself. Marjane Satrapi as herself and Martin Short as Guthrie Frenel.
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