This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons Season 32 Episode 9
The Simpsons season 32, episode 9, “Sorry Not Sorry,” teaches a valuable lesson for a hack comedy cartoon: when apologies don’t work, enforce bribery. This isn’t to belittle extortion, intimidation or other forms of larceny, but this is the twist which Simpsonizes the episode. The pre-seasonal greetings come with the opening credits, as we see signs to “stay 6 feet away from Santa,” and the couch gag which imagines the family as a Pac-Man game, with hungry, hungry Homer on the move until stupid Flanders ghosts him.
While the payoff gives us something less than a pre-Christmas miracle, but goes very far in redeeming the episode from a traditional copout. The teachers at Springfield Elementary are big dumb jerks, and Miss Hoover is one of the biggest. She is also one of its least visible, so it is good to see her featured, and flawed. Bart Simpson kissed Miss Krabappel in the earliest seasons. He’s exposed flaws in the system by accident. Lisa is a grade A student in a B minus world, and when she stands up against the idiocracy, she strikes a blow for good students everywhere.
Lisa tells the story to Homer, on the roof, while watching a meteor shower. He is very understanding, and she is very vulnerable. The tale spins out as a flashback to the day. The morning sequence is very funny, with gags coming as quickly as you can pour syrup onto melons. Santa’s Little Helper performs a greasy but graceless bit of physical comedy, which works even better as it spills out onto the street. The breakfast-gravy-Maggie sequence, of course, has to out slip the dog. It’s cute, lightly perilous, and ends with a perfect drop. But we know from the opening, the day is going to end on a remorseful night on the roof.
Lisa believes she has brought a truly inspired science project into class: she is honoring Gladys West, the woman who created GPS, and took away the excuse of getting lost on your way to places you don’t want to go. She is also the woman who lives at the center of the earth, as Bart observes. Lisa ties this project in with her dreams of Yale, though she has her snooze alarm set to a safety-school wakeup call. Some of the other projects are quite good; we learn German chocolate cake was invented by an American named German, who apparently loved cake.
In Miss Hoover’s defense, Lisa’s presentation goes over her time limit, but it is rousing enough to set Superintendent Chalmers spinning on his head. Normally his head is spinning at the antics of Principal Skinner. Hoover isn’t up to the job at the time, she’s actually lying down with a bad back and using an app to teach. So when Lisa calls her for a B minus grade, she’s got a point. Miss Hoover, of course, doubles down with what we should take as the overriding school curriculum: Truth has no place in this classroom.
Speaking truth to power sends Lisa down the road to rebellion. She undergoes the indignity of the detention frisk, and ultimate shakedown, as Willie mocks her for the tension tooth marks in her pencil and hocks its shavings in the event they turn out to be a quarter ounce of marijuana. The idea that he’ll be testing it in his water pipe later explains a lot about the character, and why he hasn’t taken a rake to Principal Skinner’s head.
The detention hall scene is well done. It is not Breakfast Club. It is The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and throws in a little stinky, as Bart cuts through the other detainees crowding his sister with a stink bomb so potent, “it could only have been invented by a man with no nose.” It is amazing how believable that is when Bart says it. We can feel how the inventor smelled it with his ears.
Lisa thinks Miss Hoover should be in detention, but Bart’s first lesson is how that is redundant. Being a teacher is detention. He also warns her to watch out for the detention gang “the Magnificent Seven-Year-Olds.” Lisa’s turnaround is fun. The first thing she does is get the detention squad tattoo artist to give her Sharpie Tattoo some teeth. Lisa becomes a rebel at least once a season, and they are consistently good episodes, or at least standouts of their season.
Bart protecting his sister is very touching, as is the scene under the covers where Lisa tells Marge what’s really bothering her, and Homer gets betrayed by his own hand in a campfire story (“Oh my God, it’s you.”). There is also a fun family vibe when Marge notes how funny it feels to drive Lisa home from detention. The trip also gives Maggie a character-enforcing visual bit where she takes a banana out of its peel to suck the peel. What makes it funnier is how she is looking to Lisa for approval while she is doing it.
Lisa’s argument has merit, women have to apologize for everything. But Yale is at stake and Yalemen apologize a cappella. No one from Springfield appears to ever apologize. Carl and Lenny fight over it at Moe’s bar. Moe only thinks it’s a good way to put someone off guard so he can piss in their gas tank later. There are self-help meetings about it, where Krusty the Clown admits he’s never even heard of the word appropriate. Inappropriate, yes. He hears that one all the time. But he’ll never apologize for it.
This is the core of it. At this juncture, Lisa can choose to empathize with Miss Hoover, or trick her with a soggy excuse for a non-apology. She then goes exploring Miss Hoover’s perspective. She watches her teacher pine over a recliner, break a quarter and slide home on a piece of cardboard to save her aching back. This looks really risky, how does she know she won’t get run over when it stops? Lisa slides down on what is probably tomorrow’s cardboard for the teacher to discover Hoover lives alone and doesn’t want her dog to eat her when she dies.
So the big lesson is Lisa walks a mile in Miss Hoover’s shoes, and it’s uncomfortable. Of course they’re painful, they’re several sizes too big, and the calluses are just awful. But we can’t have Simpsons just apologizing to teachers because their feet hurt. Miss Hoover has been phoning in her lessons for a long time. She is a hack and she’s been a hack since Lisa first came to class. Miss Hoover is the reason Lisa is the saddest kid in grade number two.
The episode has quite a few great mini-gags, such as that all the money in Lisa’s entire Yale piggy bank fund was going to go for a mini-fridge. The apology Lenny and Carl will never exchange is over a spoiler alert, which leads to us learning the Lady Gaga Star Is Born is the same as all the other ones. Also, Willie losing his fake accent on the word English is an unexpected giggle. But the best gag is saved for last as Homer plays Snoopy dreaming of being a World War I Flying Ace and chasing down the Red Baron. Curses, it’s good, Homer even does a perfect yowl to end it.
“Sorry Not Sorry” is a very satisfying episode. Lisa’s apology works because it is earned, even though we always know it’s going to happen, they effectively pull off the suspense. But it is the bribery which actually skewers it into classic The Simpsons subversion. Everyone is a hack compared to Lisa, she’s an over-achieving, occasionally entitled younger sister to the poster boy for underachievement. When she goes bad, good things follow. But her cynicism clinches this episode. She says straight out what an apology costs, and only then gets something in return. The fact that it’s the same as Ralph Wiggum gets is an extra cherry.
Chalkboard: I will not put laxatives in Santa’s cookies.