This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 31 Episode 12
An interesting premise is scuttled by the technology of the tomorrow in The Simpsons, season 31, episode 12, “The Miseducation of Lisa Simpson,” The episode opens with an Indiana Jones sequence. This is inadvertently current because the fifth installment to the franchise was announced this only week. There had to have been a leak for the animators to build the sequence on it. Disney owns Indy and Fox. This is what 30 Rock called vertical integration and it is the wave of the future.
That wave completely washes over the opening setup of the episode. Sea Captain Horatio McCallister finally fulfills his lifelong dream. He finds that Nazi treasure which the adventurous archaeologist sunk offshore in the setup. He’s been pinging for this thing all his life. It’s consumed him, destroying his marriage, wasting countless roasts, and leaving him an empty seashell of the man he used to be. When Sea Captain gets a second ping, his life finds its purpose. His men jump into action. They dance and sing sea shanties on the voyage home. Plunder enough for all, they will each probably make a little more than their usual rates.
“Yarr,” they come home to be robbed by town ordinances and political trickery as the corrupt Mayor Quimby gerrymanders the town’s unincorporated waters like he’s spray painting genitalia graffiti with office sharpies. He plunders the plunderers. But he also plunders the Sea Captain himself. We finally see the seafarer as more than the man with at least one glass eye restaurant who can barely keep the only seafood restaurant in town, The Frying Dutchman, afloat. He gets a chance to be more than a one-dimensional background character.
Many secondary characters get their own standalone episodes but Sea Captain is dunked like it’s got dry rot. Yar, by the way, is how Katherine Hepburn’s character in The Philadelphia Story describes a perfect sea vessel, one that handles well in any weather. What both the Springfield government and The Simpsons do to the Sea Captain is not very yar at all. But the rush to the future will always be like that, sweeping relics of the past in their wake. Someone’s going to have to dust up after them.
When the Mayor calls a town meeting on how to spend the loot, warning the townspeople that if they don’t come up good he’s just going to put up another sports stadium no one will come to, they offer compelling choices. Whether it’s a zoo with more attractive animals, a Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame with no Pearl Jam or death panels, it’s better than turning all the dumb kids into Zuckerbergs. The last best hope for her children is to give them the tools they will need to face the future. She suggests an education based on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, which is just another way to say computer class.
The people of Springfield are right to yawn at Marge’s suggestion of a STEM school, no matter how many praises recording artist John Legend sings or how many shares his wife Chrissy Teigen gets on Instagram. STEM doesn’t add up to funny. That’s why Bill Maher is always pushing it. He gets rid of both bad comics and the competition at the same time.
At the new school, Lisa is accepted by her peers with open arms and laptops, even on recess. With classes like science, computer science, and cognitive computer science there is so much choice for the gifted class. The curriculum is dictated by algorithms, which somehow ties garbage cans to suicide hotline ads. The school turns education into a game and Bart is great at it.
Bart calls it from the beginning. STEM school principal Zane, played by Avenue 5‘s Zach Woods, is just Principal Skinner 2.0. All schools are kid prisons and even if you’re learning geometry by shooting meteors in a multi-simulator, you’re still learning geometry. The Springfield STEM Academy is no different than Springfield Elementary. It’s just a game teaching them how to prepare students for menial jobs and side hustles like buying groceries for lazy rich people and delivering cannabis.
Is it justice for a man to be empaneled during March madness? Homer goes full Invasion of the Body Snatchers-zealot in this episode. His cushy job, which allows him and his co-workers to drink as much soda as they want, is endangered by the School of Tomorrow. Poor Homer’s job, which is to call his family in the case of a nuclear emergency so they don’t get stuck in traffic, will cease to exist when the robots come and all Carl can think about is his science-fried nads and how cool it would be to be on The Jetsons. Superintendent Chalmers gets to play out his Titanic portrait-scene fantasy with a widow on a riverboat ride on the Ohio River, which has viral potential.
Homer ignores the algorithms and saves the future so that one day someone will sing “The Ballard of John Homer,” a soda pouring man, which isn’t a real thing but at least brings a sense of brotherhood and a smile no soda machine can dispense. While Homer takes the episode into science fiction territory, Lisa keeps it as science fact and Bart just keeps it real. Lisa has a point when she warns the kids they are only learning to obey apps, but you can’t argue with Bart’s application of his new math skills. Minimum wage is like getting your allowance every hour. Before his sister Lisas things up again he wins the first round for the only school he’s ever liked with EDM.
The closing proves what we all know but robots knew first. Artificial Intelligence really is smarter than our regular intelligence. The school spirals into a self-esteem black hole with a self-destruct sequence worthy of Andromeda Strain if made by the Game of Thrones producers.
“The Miseducation of Lisa Simpson” proves that even the most progressive ideas can be corrupted, even the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But, subversive as it is, it’s not satisfying. Like so many episodes it is top-heavy, with most of the thrills coming in the beginning of the episode before it capsizes into wave of the future, where even the best ideas founder under the weight of corporate befuddlement and advertorials.
“The Miseducation of Lisa Simpson” was written by J. Stewart Burns.
The Simpsons stars Dan Castellaneta as Homer and Abe Simpson, Krusty the Clown and Groundskeeper Willie, Julie Kavner as Marge Simpson, Nancy Cartwright as Bart Simpson, Yeardley Smith as Lisa Simpson. Hank Azaria plays Comic Book Guy, Kirk Van Houten, Chief Wiggum, Professor John I.Q. Nerdelbaum Frink Jr., and Moe. Harry Shearer is Seymour Skinner, Kent Brockman, C. Montgomery Burns and Waylon Smithers. Pamela Hayden voices multiple parts. Guest voices: John Legend as himself, Chrissy Teigen as herself, and Zach Woods as Zane.
The Simpsons episode “The Miseducation of Lisa Simpson” aired Sunday, Feb. 16, on Fox.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.