A while back we had an episode of the Simpsons that had Simon Cowell in it, and basically served as a parody of the American Idol audition process. Little did I know that right around the corner we had a whole damned episode that revolved around American Idol. This is the first episode that I really had no memory of, so I think we’re right in the era that I probably stopped watching the show. And episodes like this didn’t help that!
The episode starts off with the Simpsons heading into the Kwik-E-Mart to shop, when they realize that that’s going to be a little difficult, since Snake is currently robbing it. And because they don’t have any change for the pay-phone outside the Kwik-E-Mart, and Apu is too cheap to give them a quarter to make the call, so they just leave him to his grisly fate, assuming everything will just work itself out. Which is pretty shitty.
But that does leave them with a problem, because now they don’t have any food for dinner! Luckily Cleetus and Brandine are selling vegetables outside the Kwik-E-Mart from the back of their truck, so the day is saved. Lisa even convinces them to buy all the vegetables and have a vegetarian meal for dinner. And, shockingly, the rest of the family is down for that. So they stock up on as many vegetables as they can get and head home to have a goddamn feast of nutrients.
Unfortunately this turns out to be a terrible plan, because after dinner the family all becomes violently ill. Well, everyone except Lisa. Apparently the family isn’t used to vitamins, and their bodies are rejecting the vegetables completely. And since Lisa is the only member of the family who is used to nutrients, she’s tasked with taking care of her family. And she does a pretty good job, pampering them and even singing to them so they all can fall asleep.
And the next morning the family seem back to normal, gorging themselves of fried chicken to cancel out the vegetables. And while they’re sitting around watching TV, thanking Lisa for her help, they see an ad for Krusty’s latest scam. He’s apparently running a child singing competition that he’s calling Krusty’s Li’l Starmaker Singing Competition. And because she sang so beautifully the night before, the family decide that Lisa should participate.
So the family head over to the Springfield Mall where the try-outs are beginning. And it’s not very rigorous, because it’s only being judged by an applause-o-meter. Luckily there aren’t that many talented kids in Springfield, so Lisa assumes that she’s a lock. Especially when Ralph does terribly. However, a kid named Clarissa Wellington show up and sings beautifully, and also sings the very song Lisa was planning on doing. Clarissa is voiced by a real winner of American Idol called Fantasia Barrino, but she literally doesn’t speak, and only sings in this one moment, so I don’t know why they did that.
But Lisa is panicking, assuming that she’ll never get any applause by singing the same song worse. Homer comes to her rescue though by running into a piano store and quickly writing a new song for Lisa to sing. And he actually is able to kick it out pretty quickly; delivering a song about how great Springfield is to Lisa right before she goes up on stage. She begins singing the song, and the people love it, destroying the applause-o-meter. So Lisa’s in!
Lisa now gets to go to the next phase of the competition, which just like American Idol is in a large theater full of people. But Lisa decides that Homer should remain her secret weapon, and she asks him to keep writing songs for her all through the competition. But Homer also quickly starts overstepping his bounds and being violent and angry toward everyone that he comes in contact with, trying to make everything perfect for Lisa. But she doesn’t seem to notice that he’s becoming a vengeful stage parent.
Mainly because she has more important things on her mind, namely the new phase of the competition where she actually has to compete against talented kids. Most importantly a kid named Cameron that all the little girls are in love with. But Homer becomes her secret weapon, and writes her an incredibly sad song about burying Snowball II on Christmas day, which is enough to get people to vote for her to move onto the next phase.
This continues for a while in montage, until Krusty gets rid of that Clarissa girl, making it down to Lisa and Cameron. However, thanks to the added stress of being in the finals, Homer becomes even more unpleasant, and Lisa finally notices. She freaks out at how aggressive Homer has become, and when he just gets more mad when she tries to talk him down, she decides to do something drastic. She fires Homer from being her songwriter/manager.
Homer takes this opportunity to act with maturity and learn from his actions….ha, just kidding, he gets really petulant and even goes so far as to announce that he’s now the manager for Cameron, specifically to spite Lisa. So that’s great. And he seems to be specifically training the kid in being a ham and upstaging Lisa. She tries to apologize to Homer (even though she isn’t the one in the wrong) and he just keeps acting like a fussy child.
So the final performance is ready to begin, and Lisa is afraid that she isn’t going to be able to win without Homer’s songwriting abilities. She decides to write her own song, and even announces that before singing. And her song is really sad, and about how she misses Homer’s love. Which is enough to thaw his frozen heart, and the two reconcile, hugging and making up. And at the same time we learn that Homer was always on her side, because he’s given that Cameron kid a song about being entitled, and the crowd hates him. So Lisa wins! What does she win? No idea, the episode is over now, go home.
This episode is just kind of the pits. I’m usually a real sucker for Homer/Lisa bonding episodes, but this one was just such a bummer. I always found American Idol and all of the shows that it spawned to be weird, punishing singers who had any style or charm to their voices in favor of bland homogenized products that could be sold, and I don’t really need to see that crap infect the Simpsons. And I don’t even think that 2005 was really striking where the iron is hot, because I assume American Idol was already being forgotten by that point. Plus, I’m baffled by the idea that they had an American Idol winner to voice a character, and then not use her at all. That’s just weird. But the real problem with this episode is the Homer and Lisa stuff. I can buy the idea of Homer becoming one of those terrible stage-parents that live vicariously through their children’s success, but he becomes so unlikeable, and then they barely fix that. Lisa even tries to apologize him, which is so weird and gross since he was the one being abusive, and then they don’t even really fix it. Lisa sings a sad song and then Homer forgives her, and then the episode ends. It’s a problem a lot of these episodes have been having, and it bugs the hell out of me. They set up a real and problematic issue between two people, and then sweep it under the rug in the last two minutes. It’s all set up and no real conclusion. It’s just weird, and I don’t like it at all.
Take Away: Don’t live through your kids, it makes you and them a monster.
“A Star is Torn” was written by Carolyn Omine and directed by Nancy Kruse, 2005.