Boy, it’s been a while since we’ve had one of these, huh? The strange whims of network television has made it so that we haven’t had a new episode of the Simpsons in quite a while. But, things are going to be pretty consistent from now on, marching to the inevitable end of yet another season. And what better way to kick things back up by dealing with a real weird episode?
Things start off in a mountaintop bar that is a parody of the Himalayan bar from Raiders of the Lost Ark, where a rugged man and woman are engaged in a high-stakes drinking contest. But, things are ruined when a bunch of Nazis come bursting in, looking for the second half of a treasure map. The man and woman then spring into action, and fight the Nazis, killing them all and burning down the bar, but not before getting their hands on the half of the map, which matches a half they have. This map sends them to Springfield, on the hunt for treasure while the music from Pirates of the Caribbean starts for some reason.
We then jump ahead forty years to find that the rugged man is actually Captain McCallister, and he’s spent the majority of his life searching for sunken treasure off the coast of Springfield, growing increasingly miserable and bitter about the monotonous reality of treasure hunting. We’re then treated to a depressing montage of Captain McCallister going about his life, hunting for treasure and living with his bitter wife, the woman from the bar.
But, after decades of searching, Captain McCallister finally finds the source of his hunt. He locates a massive chest full of treasure, and he and his men sail back into Springfield, excited to be hailed as champions. And, they find Mayor Quimby, the police force, and a bunch of lawyers waiting for them. Because it turns out that McCallister’s bitter wife told Quimby about his impending success, and they moved the border of Springfield out into the ocean in order to claim that the treasure belongs to the city. So, they take all the treasure, and leave Captain McCallister depressed, drunk, and alone.
Which means we’re getting something we haven’t seen in a long time. An unhinged City Hall meeting where Springfield has to decide what to do with their new fortune. We get the customary assault of terrible ideas, until it’s time for Marge to pitch something practical. And, this time it’s to start a STEM school, since those were all the rage like five years ago, right in the Simpsons sweet spot of relevancy.
The town isn’t overly excited about the idea, until Marge reveals that she has brought John Legend to sing a slow-jam about STEM schools. And, they like that. They also like when Chrissy Tiegen shows up to talk about Instagram with Marge for a while? I don’t know, this episode is falling apart at the seams. But, they’ve decided to follow through with Marge’s idea, and quickly build the new school literally across the street from the Elementary School.
For some reason every single kid in Springfield is now going to this school, if they want to or not, which of course leads to Bart being sullen, and Lisa being stoked. But, the young new principal manages to sway Bart by showing him that they’ve gamefied the whole education experience, having Bart learn geometry with video games in order to get unlockable skins for his avatar. And, as you might have guessed, Lisa gets put into a gifted class, where she’s able to hang out with her fellow dweebs, learning coding according to the whims of an all-powerful algorithm that runs the school.
And, that night, Homer is stunned to find that both of his kids are actually enjoying school for once. Which inspires him to actually help out, and come give a talk for career day. Unfortunately, that quickly devolves into the principal telling him and the other parents how quickly their jobs will be made obsolete due to robots, which causes Homer to freak the hell out.
Which results in a very strange and vestigial B-Plot with Homer, which I’ll just get out of the way now. Because the next morning Homer goes to work to warn Lenny and Carl about the impending robot apocalypse, and he ends up getting particularly infuriated by a new soda dispenser in the break room. So, Homer decides to challenge the soda robot to a John Henry Irons style battle of wills. Which ends up Homer failing and passing out in front of his co-workers while a folk song plays, singing about how Homer kind of lost track of his point, and proved nothing to no one.
Anyway! Lisa has been loving her new life at the STEM school, until she starts to notice something about the less-gifted kids. They’re all being trained to do menial tasks in order to get better “grades” which are given in the form of star ratings. And, after digging in a bit more, Lisa realizes that these kids aren’t being trained for “the jobs of tomorrow,” they’re being trained to become slaves of the gig economy, getting stuck in a series of side-hustles.
Lisa becomes disgusted for her less-gifted colleagues, and decides to go raise some hell, which Bart doesn’t want to happen. Lisa tries to rile up the other kids, but Bart starts fighting with her, getting the kids to embrace their gig-economy destinies. And, seeing she’s lost the masses, Lisa decides to go rage against the machine, and take the all-mighty algorithm down herself.
She breaks into the mainframe, and starts destroying the algorithm, until Bart comes rushing in to stop her. He explains that he likes this new way of life, and Lisa tries to explain that she’s doing this for him. But, he doesn’t care. So, they start fighting, until the principal shows up to stop them.
Lisa tries to tell the principal that this is terrible and elitist, but he responds by pointing out that the whole point of having a gifted class is elitism, which kind of stumbles Lisa. But, she keeps at it, and tells them that they have to trust the algorithm. He then shows her the truth by having the algorithm reveal what the jobs of tomorrow that they’re training for really are. Which ends up horrifying them.
Lisa, Bart, and the principal then reveal to the rest of the school that the algorithm has discovered that robots will take all of their jobs, except for one industry. Elder care. Everyone in this school will have to become elder care experts, and they are horrified for this bleak future. So, they all start giving the algorithm bad user reviews, until its star rating gets so low that the algorithm commits suicide, and the school self-destructs. At which point the kids realize that nothing has changed, and they’re still doomed to an eternity of elder care.
What a crazy episode! Listen, I’m not really expecting high-quality episodes anymore. The show has kind of lost the plot, and it’s just plodding along until its inevitable end, which I’m beginning to suspect will only occur when one of the principal cast members die, which is bleak as hell. But, even by that standard, this episode is nuts. We open on an extended and depressing look at the life of Captain McCallister, scored to Pirates of the Caribbean music in spite of being an Indiana Jones riff, only to somehow slide into a crazy story about the futility of existence in the face of an impending post apocalypse. And, along the way we get baffling celebrity cameos, dating references to the things the kids today are into, an absolutely insane side-plot where Homer pours soda to spite a robot, and it all ends with the school exploding because they’re made an algorithm sad. This episode is kind of unhinged. But, at the same time, I found myself kind of enjoying it. This episode is a mess, but it’s kind of amusing to see if not even really try anymore, just spinning out into madness. And, I guess I’m signed up to follow the show down this path.
“The Miseducation of Lisa Simpson” was written by J Stewart Burns and directed by Matthew Nastuk, 2020.
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons