The Simpsons, Season Nine, Episode Twenty-One, “Girly Edition”

The better season nine episodes create a consistent reaction in me where my short term reaction is that they’re wildly entertaining and yet much dumber than they used to be. “Girly Edition” sits just above “The Trouble With Trillions” in that it does have an emotional throughline and something to say, but it still feels less necessary, less thoughtful, and less original than the show at its best. I absolutely love its central ideas; kid versions of adult things are a cheap and easy way to make me laugh, and both Lisa’s po-faced delivery of library budget cuts and Bart’s showy recreation of ESPN sportscasters to talk about dodgeball and schoolyard fights slay me. Even better, I’m always a sucker for stories about people with disparate skillsets coming together to achieve a goal, so the conflict and its resolution are right up my alley. It’s a little well-worn at this point to say that Lisa’s strength is her conviction and that Bart’s is his showmanship, but it’s fun to see them play them out and realise they can combine them. The frustrating thing is how Lisa is a little flattened to make this work; she’s always had personal convictions but she’s also always been empathetic enough to understand how to communicate those convictions to other people, if not completely sell them on it. Even exceptions like “Lisa The Vegetarian” came off to me as a sudden burst of idealism overtaking her empathy, and only for a short while. Since the start of season nine, the writers have replaced her empathy with condescending expectation that the world fit her ideals rather than her ideals shaping the world. The broad strokes of the plot still work – I can see Lisa enthusiastically embracing Kidz Newz and becoming frustrated and even a little jealous by Bart’s style-over-substance flash, trying to get revenge, and regretting her actions; it’s just the way she’s written in individual scenes that feels wrong to me. A little meaner, a little more rigid, a little more reflexively angry.

I suppose it really puts into perspective how the Golden Era versions of the characters were simultaneously simple, flexible, and delicate, despite all three words seeming to contradict each other. Perhaps their simplicity comes from the fact that what they want is always clear and rigid, while how they express that want tends to change from episode to episode. Lisa wants as many people as possible to be as happy as possible, and that grounds her various jokes, rants, opinions, and crusades. Homer is a hedonist who loves his family and tends to get caught up in impressions he picked up from pop culture, and that grounds his emotions and his flights of fancy. Even the secondary and tertiary characters like Skinner or Flanders have specific motivations that keep each iteration of them square from episode to episode, even as the expression of those wants changes drastically. What I think we’re starting to see is the flipside – characters are reduced to behaviours and actions and their motivations change from episode to episode to accommodate. It’s not the worst way of writing – American Dad has thrived on it for fifteen years – but it doesn’t feel appropriate for The Simpsons, and I think it works as an explanation for why the show feels ‘wrong’ from season nine onward. Characters are bent for plot rather than the other way around. I feel like this is visible in the subplot too, which is some prime Jerkass Homer – it has many funny and deservedly iconic moments, but seeing Homer basically abuse an animal for twenty minutes feels actively cruel in a way that’s inappropriate for the show.

Chalkboard Gag: N/A
Couch Gag: The family run in, and a live-action hand grabs the frame and spins it, sending the paint everywhere.

This episode was written by Larry Doyle and directed by Mark Kirkland. Eric Stefani had, by this point, left the show for No Doubt, but he returned to animate Mojo’s scenes. George Meyer conceived the ‘pray for Mojo’ line and considers it his favourite contribution to the show. Yeardley Smith considers this her favourite episode. The Crazy Cat Lady is introduced for this episode.

“Man, you’d think the quality would dip after fifty-five hundred shows!” = hahaha, shut up. The jokes about being low quality were funnier when the show was high quality. The scene where Marge hypocritically says “That ‘mom’ stuff doesn’t work on me!” is hilarious and was probably more of a bitter taste when I was a kid. There’s a shot of Burns and Smithers sitting in bean bags while watching TV that made me laugh, partly because it made me think of a Billy Connolly bit about determining your age via how long it takes you to get out of one, partly because imagining Burns casually deciding to sit and watch a children’s program in his bean bag was hilarious.

The kid’s take on the news is, hilariously, a pretty accurate take on how local news is actually made. This is a rarer-and-rarer case of the cynicism of the ending justifying its sudden stop and return to status quo. 

The title of the episode is a reference to Early Edition.

Iconic Moments: 3. “It’s the tightest three hours and ten minutes on tv!” | “I can’t wait to eat that monkey.” | “Pray for Mojo.”
Biggest Laugh: Despite all I said, this was a very funny episode that was difficult to pick; “Where the hell’s my grilled cheese?!” made me crack up despite not even being a joke, and the monkey imitating Lisa’s evil laugh killed me. Ultimately, this was a great moment of the setup being almost as funny as the punchline.