Hey, do you want to talk about an episode of the Simpsons that’s kind of sort of a La La Land pastiche with Ed Sheeran? No? Well too bad, because that’s what we have to talk about today.
The episode begins by implying that this episode is actually going to be a straight-forward La La Land parody, with a massive traffic jam causing the people of Springfield to hop out of their cars and sing a parody of “Another Day of Sun.” It’s kind of fun, and we see some good sight-gags from the various townfolk singing about how horrible it is living in Springfield. Which, seems like a pretty accurate assessment most of the time.
But, once that’s done, the episode then kind of drops most of the La La Land stuff, and instead follows the Simpsons as they’re driving to some sort of STEM conference that Lisa has dragged them all too. She’s not presenting or anything, and is just there to wander around and look at all the various booths while the rest of the family sullenly follow her. Which seems like a weird call, because you’d think that would just lead to a lot of resentment from the rest of the family, but whatever.
We then get to follow Lisa around for a bit, looking at some gags surrounding the STEM conference. We see Mr. Burns trying to intimidate people into agreeing that nuclear power is perfectly safe, a robot that has been trained to sadly produce TV recaps for the internet, and Al Gore letting us know that he’s given up and is building an ark. Oh, and we also see Bart get interested in a chemical engineer who starts to teach Bart that chemistry can be used to create explosions, which obviously catches his interest.
And, while Bart is distracted, Lisa has become worn out, intellectually exhausted from all of the concepts that she’s just encountered. So, she decides to go rest in the convention center bar for a moment to collect herself. And, while sitting there, she notices a boy about her age playing some jazz on a piano and singing. Lisa is then instantly smitten, and she goes to chat with him, seeing if he’s actually as perfect as she assumes.
Turns out his name is Brendan, and he’s just moved to Springfield. He’s going to be going to Springfield Elementary, and Lisa decides that she should try to make this work. So, the two start hanging out a bunch, even though Brendan seems like kind of an asshole. They jam in her garage and he kind of Whiplash’s her, but she doesn’t seem to care, and continues to moon after him. Which really starts to bother Nelson, who apparently still loves Lisa and is now incredibly jealous of Brendan.
While all of this has been going on though, Bart has continued his newfound interest in chemistry, dragging Milhouse along with him. They’re hanging out up in the treehouse, watching YouTube videos and pulling off all sorts of weird chemical exploits. Which obviously starts to worry Homer and Marge. They’re sure that Bart’s up to no good, but when Homer actually confront Bart about his new interest, Bart manages to deflect by saying that he’s just following in Homer’s footsteps, gaining an interest in science. And Homer buys this. So, Bart gets to keep messing around with chemicals!
Lisa and Brendan are continuing to go out together, and this has earned Brendan the hatred of Nelson. And, he’s calling in backup. Nelson starts using the other bullies to harass Brendan, but he turns all of their attacks into more art, which just makes Lisa fall more in love with him. So, seeing that their normal strategies aren’t working, Nelson decides to do something a little extreme.
When Lisa and Brendan are out getting ice cream, Nelson and the bullies come marching into the store, seemingly to beat Brendan up. But, instead, they all take out some instruments, and Nelson starts singing Lisa a song that he’s written about her. And, this kind of works. Lisa is shocked at how vulnerable that Nelson has made himself, and actually starts to find him a little attractive. Which means we have a love triangle!
A jazz war then begins, with Lisa’s affections as the ultimate prize. Brendan and Nelson start following her around all the time, playing their little songs and hoping that she’ll choose them. Brendan sings songs about how amazing she’ll be one day, and Nelson just sings from the heart. And, she’s conflicted. She asks Willie for advice for some reason, but he just rambles about thistles for a while and it doesn’t really lead anywhere. So, instead, it’s decided that the two boys will compete at an upcoming talent show.
Oh, and speaking of talent shows, Bart’s decided to do a demonstration there as well, of his chaotic chemistry. Homer and Marge find a bunch of scribbled notes and equations on Bart’s flier of the show, and they can’t help but get worried at what Bart’s planning to do during the show. But, they decide that they need to put some faith into Bart and support him, regardless of whatever chaos Bart may unleash there.
The night of the talent show arrives, and Lisa’s still incredibly conflicted. She tries asking Marge for advice, but realizes that she’s going to have to make this decision on her own. She decides to go talk to Nelson, and tells him that while she appreciates the fact that he’s being artistic for her, he’s not a good singer and shouldn’t embarrass himself like this. But, Nelson refuses to talk about that, and goes out to start singing.
Lisa then has a vision of what her life with Nelson would be like. And it’s not pretty! He basically remains a sleaze that she spends the rest of her life constantly bailing out, holding her down like an anchor. So, she decides that that’s a sign she should choose Brendan. Unfortunately, when she makes that decision Principal Skinner comes in with bad news. Brendan actually lives just outside the barrier of their school district, and has to immediately leave the talent show because he’s not a student. So, with that taken care of, Lisa decides to chase neither boy, and just be herself for a few more years.
Oh, and even though we just handled the finale of the emotional core of this episode, we still have to wrap up the Bart stuff, because this episode is structured strangely. He prepares to show off his chemical magic, but the police arrive before he can, sure that he’s up to evil. Marge decides to vouch for him though, insisting that he’s good now. And then Bart actually start showing off some cool chemical effects, much to the enjoyment of the audience, and the pride of Marge. Until he also sets off a prank that fills the auditorium with pink goo. You win some, you lose some I suppose.
This episode is fine, I suppose. I do think that it’s very weird that this episode appeared on the surface to be a parody of La La Land, only to then abandon that almost immediately and just become a weird story about a love triangle. And that’s made even stranger by the shows continued insistence that Nelson secretly loves Lisa, and will keep trying to win her over even though they really only had that one romantic encounter. I just don’t buy the two of them together, and it always feels weird. Brendan’s no catch either, voiced by the interminable Ed Sheeran and just tossing out weird passive aggressive comments to her non-stop. I don’t know, it’s just kind of a lackluster plot. Honestly, I found myself enjoying the Bart stuff more, but it was so tangential and vestigial that there really wasn’t much to go with, leaving me wanting way more plot about Bart’s chemical interests. I still just wish that I’d gotten a full-on Simpsons musical episode again.
“Haw-Haw Land” was written by Tim Long and Miranda Thompson and directed by Bob Anderson, 2018.
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons