The Simpsons Stages Its Own Hillbilly Elegy

The Simpsons discover slack-jawed yokels can read and learn life’s lessons from Conway Twitty.

The Simpsons Season 33 Episode 16
Photo: Fox

This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.

The Simpsons Season 33 Episode 16

After 33 seasons, The Simpsons can still strive to be edumacational. “Pretty Whittle Liar” is a smart episode, Jeopardy! smart, and we’re not talking about its celebrity tournaments. Joke-wise it is still mostly clever, as most of the recent seasons have become. It is nowhere near as funny as the Fargo takeoff episode, “A Serious Flanders,” but it is multilayered, pretty enjoyable, and features an original country song, and one by Conway Twitty, both pluck at the heartstrings.

We also get a cameo from The Peanuts’ Schroeder, providing piano accompaniment and subtle disappointment. There is a lot of Tchaikovsky in the installment, for a country tale. 

“Pretty Whittle Liar” is a secondary-character driven episode, but fully integrates the Simpsons into the narrative. Except Bart, who’s busy off-camera, apparently, skateboarding on wheelchair ramps. Brandine Spuckler, voiced by Tress MacNeille, discovers a love of literature during a twister, and has been hiding it from her husband Cletus (Hank Azaria).

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The episode opens with a very subtle satire on how a slack-jawed yokel story should play out: on reality TV. The best bit is when the cameras turn on to the Simpson family, teasing the story might be a parody. Luckily, this is where the reality TV segment turns to an afterschool special.

Hillbilly jokes abound, so let that be a lesson to you. For Brandine and Cletus, the 3 Rs of learning are raccoons, Red Bull, and the rhythm method. The couple met when they were seated at the same hay bale, at a shotgun wedding. They reckon if they’re not first or second cousins, they must be kissing cousins. Everything is golden about Cletus when Brandine first lays eyes on him, including his tooth, and she has him at the word “derr.” 

It’s always open season on the Spuckler family on The Simpsons. The creative team probably assumes grid-free bumpkins don’t have televisions, and can slip a message in during commercial breaks. Sponsored by Mountain Dew, the hillbilly hall of fame sequence is worth the price of admission, which is probably free, with a suggested road kill donation. It doesn’t explain everything, but it provides some chuckles.

Brandine could have used greater space to fill in the background. She pays her lessons forward into Lisa’s subplot, while Homer learns to appreciate Cletus. Everyone undergoes significant self-improvement. Lisa gets an A for aggravation, on a class assignment, exposing herself, yet again, as a precocious know-it-all. She gets noticed by The League of Extraordinary Geniuses, who really should have noticed her long before this if their name means anything. Lisa has already been initiated into the dark mysterious rites of Mensa, and tutors most of the faculty. She already told the joke about conquering sports with mathematical precision, teaching Bart to win at miniature golf in an early episode, and did it better. 

Lisa and Brandine’s connection is an equalizer, like everything about the episode. Brandine says Lisa is  a smart girl, and that means life will be harder, and then gives Lisa the strength to be “Smarticus.” This would be a nice touch of a tribute if The Simpsons hadn’t already done it.

Brandine bonds with Marge over how they each mirror the other where both are blind. The men are no different. Homer goes to Cletus because broken marriages are contagious. Of course, they bond. They have a lot in common, and have socialized before. To be fair, Homer learns he can light farts on fire from Brandine. But only Cletus can give him the answer to why Marge stays with him. Everything you need to know is in a country song. Every tune feels like they’re singing to you, personally, and they are all so damned catchy.

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One of the most creatively funny lines of the episode comes from one of the trailer tots. When Cletus tells his kids to turn around so he can hide his tears, one says “We’ve seen you cry, but we’ve never seen you yodel.” The line didn’t have to be followed by a visual gag to work. My personal favorite line, however, comes from Chief Wiggum, as he is being held hostage by Snake, he says “I tried to tell you you were under arrest but you just laughed.”

“Pretty Whittle Liar” is a complicated episode, and it’s a very good thing the installment pulls back from adding another marriage crisis to the Simpsons household. But the change comes from Cletus. He betters himself to the degree where he can tell the finer points on why John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath is a classic, and why the story is told much better in National Lampoon’s Vacation, currently streaming on Hillbilly Plus.


3.5 out of 5