This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons: Season 29 Episode 8
Finally, a couch gag we can trust. The Simpsons season 29, episode 8, “Mr. Lisa’s Opus” is an epic comedy film parody, along the lines of, but funnier on a line-by-line basis than, last season’s “Barthood.” Even a short gag on an everlasting battle takes on historic relevance. The episode has its treacle, but Al Jean cuts it with brilliant subversion. Dan Castellaneta’s voice of Homer is in its glory as a rapid fire laugh delivery system.
Framed around the composition of Lisa Simpson’s application letter to Harvard, the episode begins seven years ago, which really could be anytime because Lisa has been seven going on 29 seasons now. Back then Homer was still trying to figure out why something that came out of Marge became his responsibility. In the flash-forward, most of Bart and Lisa’s schoolmates age without surprise. Even Ralph Wiggum’s innocence remains intact in spite of the mustache growing under his long nose, which, upon reflection is as anatomically incorrect as an old Michael Jackson doll. Bart adds a few verses to the song he wrote with Leon Kompowsky, voiced by “John Jay Smith” in the season 3 Lisa’s-birthday episode “Stark Raving Dad,” in a nod to the candle-blowing coup.
Lisa’s seventh birthday wasn’t the only major milestone to happen on that fateful day. That is also the day Marge gave up hope, surrendering her will to the tide of parenthood, as well as Maggie’s first addiction. We see the infant daughter get her first taste of Life Sucks Pacifiers. The continuing battle of the nipple comes to the level of classic Simpsons gags, running in the background, stealing the attention like Bart at a Diarama fair, and paying off better than most punch lines.
As Homer’s future AI smart exerciser warns him he is going to die soon, Lisa learns that her parents are not demigods. One day they’re passively aggressing over who should drink what where and the next Marge is planning to open a Bed and Breakfast in a new life, far away. Homer has changed, man, and not once for the better, time and time again, the premise of all redactive predictive Simpsons episodes.
King Toot’s music shop will offer time travel in the future. I’m taking this a little deeper than is probably intended, but I think this is a very clever sight gag because music is all about time. Lisa finds her place in her time because she balances scholarly gifts with artistic intelligence. She doesn’t only blow cool counterpoint to her roommate’s licorice stick melodies, she knows the exact moment when to stop talking in old school jazz slang.
The episode also turns comic timing on itself in a bit of reverse subversion when Homer finally realizes it’s Lisa’s birthday and forgives her for forgetting. He counts every day since Lisa was born. That is extremely sweet, when you think about it. It’s just too bad math isn’t Homer’s thing, and I wonder if he carried the one after leap year.
It gets a little too sweet when Bart explains to his sister how she is exactly where she is supposed to be at Harvard. School is a place for sitting quietly, the students at Springfield Elementary were programmed by Principal Skinner. Education was not a mandate. But Lisa overcame that, asking the right questions, questioning the wrong answers, but never answering the wrong questions. She learned the last one from her brother, who never met a question worth answering. But he sums it up perfectly. Lisa is an earworm, saxamaphone or not, now “get in those brains and chew.” Lisa is a precedent-setter. The Simpsons were the first family from their state ever to get Harvarded.
The Simpsons also assures us America is not in a dumbing down phase. In the future, the SATs will get more complex. Lisa’s roommate got an 800 on telekinesis. Lisa had to prove she was fluent in housecat. We also see Lisa’s mind opening on more than the possibilities of education. Her new roommate gives off signals that she may want to be more than a friend, and Lisa doesn’t even check it for sarcasm.
Krusty the Clown would be proud of how The Simpsons purloin the old “park your car in Harvard yard” chestnut. While it goes on into pure abstraction, the punch line is hidden in the middle when Homer asks the college security guards “are you on Novocain?” The closing parody of the All in the Family piano singalong is a pure ode to joy. “Oh the way Nirvana played …. Mister we could use a man like Richard Simmons again” conjures the splendor and folly of one of the great decades in the history of decades. Norman Lear gives it class and detention at the same time. The episode also moves another ten years into the future’s future. And we still never hear Maggie say a word.
It is always nice to see Rhoda and Brenda together, even if they don’t share a scene yes, that awful soul-stealing teacher Ms. Myles is played by Valerie Harper. Last week, Julie Kavner did Marge doing Homer, confirming a familial comic dimension we always knew was there. This week, her voice acting yanks at the heart strings, especially when she breaks down crying because Homer listened when she told him to go to Moe’s.
Homer will one day quit drinking, according to this flash-forward. This goes directly against every other predictive episode The Simpsons ever aired. It goes against the very laws of nature, physics and whatever Moe has scrawled on the wall as far as acceptable behavior in his bar. That being said, Homer taking the AA vows is one of the greatest bits ever written and drawn for this show. He admits he is powerless immediately. But when confronted to acknowledging a higher power he gets logical on his sponsor Ned Flanders’ ass, pointing out that if he is powerless than everything has more power than him. When told to accept a supreme being, Homer grumbles god is in every deal, “like undercoating.” But the cherry is his pledge: “Dear Lord, the Satan of Heaven.” This playful irreverence gives me hope for the future of The Simpsons. This is why I continue watching.
And now stand by for Simpson and Son.
“Mr. Lisa’s Opus” was written by Al Jean, and directed by Steven Dean Moore.
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 Seymour Skinner, Kent Brockman, C. Montgomery Burns and Waylon Smithers. Guest stars Valerie Harper as Ms. Myles, Norman Lear as Himself, Kipp Lennon as Michael Jackson’s vocals, and Jon Lovitz as Artie Ziff.