This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 31 Episode 6
The Simpsons, season 31, episode 6, “Marge the Lumberjill,” doesn’t quite cut it. And it should. It has enough buzz saws and chain saws for a dozen massacres in Texas, but only prunes artisanal marijuana in Oregon. The promises of the premises are left at the door mat before there are any indents on the couch.
When The Simpsons softened their animation they cut the edges off their most effective humor. Here they have a chance to skewer extreme cases of the breaks in community ideals and they merely tweak them. The Simpsons are not showing the proper disrespect ideals need to face in order to prove their worth in Springfield, and especially not Timbersports, a glorified hobby. The episode only gives passing ecological commentary, Lisa is only a Lorax for a little while, speaking for the trees while Exxon Mobil is writing textbooks on global warming for the school. The episode has the forest gumption to mention it, as Marge hacks her way through the forest of an alternative lifestyle.
Marge is a very strong character, whose strengths lie in her marginalization, which may very well be why she’s got that name. In her school play, Lisa paints her mother accurately, and the world yawns. Marge is solid and steady. So solid she’s been a cop, held an extortive stranglehold on local pretzel snacks. She is so steady she ran an erotic bakery and served Mr. Burns a three-eyed fish when he was running for office. She fought for better television and took responsibility when there was nothing to watch. Her passive aggression moves mountains in Springfield.
Marge takes the pulpit from Reverend Lovejoy in an attempt to pull a coup on public impression. She actually does a great Jesus impression and pulls a passable Italian stereotype out of the oven before being forced to read the room and give it back to the ever-longwinded minister. By the time she discovers Timbersports, accidentally by chopping up a tree Homer was too lazy to finish, her rage has built up enough to tumble redwoods. By the time she does it in competition, her humiliation has become so honed it can snap trunks with a glare.
Marge forgets her past and allows the community to dictate her self-worth in terms of the social pecking order. She’s not as exciting as videogame hacks and YouTube series breakdowns, but at least she perks up a good pot of coffee. Marge has shown her super-strengths a few times, and here she puts it to use chopping down trees with a gay prize winner her sister introduced her to. The pair bond over the competitive spirit and all the grunting and puffing that goes with it.
Ralph Wiggum is very impressive tonight, remembering all his lines in Springfield Elementary’s first annual play pageant. He plays both Jughead in a Riverdale takeoff and Homer in Lisa’s odyssey. Lisa is the only student to actually write a play, “Long Day’s Journey Into Light Beer,” and she dips into strange interludes for inspiration. Superintendent Chalmers encourages parents to keep their cell phones on and even gives them candy to unwrap, a clever joke, especially considering he is supposed to be the authority figure.
Homer is extremely vulnerable and more self-aware than self-involved in this episode. His soliloquy after hearing Marge will be away for a month is downright poignant, and filled with childlike innocence. He misses her when they separate in revolving doors, when he puts a sweater over his head, and when the clocks go back, he sees it as time he will never get back. He sees his failings in the home Marge and Paula put together in so short a time. But Anger Watkins has the greatest arc. The sports announcer who has been bumped by the NBA learns to appreciate Timbersports and love all the woodland creatures which infest them. Grandpa probably gets the best passing gags, first in a clueless babysitting aside.
Portland is shown as a Springfield which works. Even Comic Book Guy finds a place there, where he is quirky and contributes to the all-in-one microcosm of the artistic community. Lisa recognizes immediately that the show has been here before, and goes through the stages of joy, acceptance and grief within a sentence to get it out of the way. It does, however, bring up the question as to where Springfield actually is. Homer has no idea.
Jill Sobule, who wrote the song “I Kissed a Girl” which wasn’t Katy Perry’s, provides the episode’s theme song, which is of a narrative tree-kissing variety. She doesn’t bring enough vroom to the episode. “Marge the Lumberjill” is tepid. It treads too lightly on the tension of sexual orientation and doesn’t go far enough into the peril of the marriage to pull off any real suspense. Everything turns out “okay,” as Marge accepts as she agrees to go home. Which is what the episode is. Too many short cuts in a stump which could have been gutted to a pulp. The Simpsons are playing it too safe in a kind of teasing reverence to shake anything but leaves.
Chalkboard: Daylight savings isn’t something I can spend.
“Marge the Lumberjill” was written by Ryan Koh, and directed by Rob Oliver.
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 voice: Asia Kate Dillon as Paula.
The Simpsons episode “Marge the Lumberjill” aired Sunday, Nov. 10, 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.