Episode 18 - The Great Simpsina
14 April 2011
Synopsis: Lisa befriends an old magician the Great Raymondo. He teaches her how to perform magic tricks. He also confides in her the secret to Houdini's Milk Can trick. Flattered by the attentions of a boy she reveals the secret to the son of fellow magician Cregg Demon.
The Good: Once more the writers fail to properly structure what could have been an interesting story. However to give them credit they got a lot more right in this story than they usually do.
The bonding between Lisa and the Great Raymondo felt natural and had a lot of small details which helped make this work. For a start when she stumbles into his house the first thing he tells her to do is to call her parents. It's such a small moment and yet it underlines a sense that this is a real relationship and that Raymondo is a sensible adult. It's also a good moral lesson for the show to stick in there.
There was also good detail work in making Raymondo seem like a real person with little jokes about his medication and love of a Vodka-tonic. He also talks about his ex-wife and perhaps the best line of the episode was when he looked at Lisa and commented "The only magic we couldn't make was a child." Again it was such a simple line and yet it provided an immediate understanding to any viewer as to why he would want to share all his secrets with her. The episode didn't have a proper ending that involved Lisa but the writers made the best of the situation by having the sad final shot of Raymondo imaging that his wife was once more by his side. If the writers had put in a little more effort that could have been genuinely moving.
Lisa did have her small moment of proper characterisation when she revealed the Milk Can secret to Cregg Demon's son. We know that Lisa is a geek and this sudden attention from a boy was a plausible excuse for her to break Raymondo's trust. Another nice touch was having Homer go to see Raymondo when Lisa was upset. Again it was a detail which so often gets left out of these stories.
The cartoon format lent itself well to magic tricks and that certainly helped this episode flow well. The shows usual silly exaggerations were less annoying as a result of the inbuilt plausibility of magic tricks looking implausible. The magic tricks were visually fun to watch too and I did like the joke about the mirror which would show you how you died showing "Morbid Obesity" - "for the American market" - Raymond helpfully adds.
The Bad: Despite the solid sentiment which the bonding between Lisa and Raymondo created there was still no real purpose to this story. I doubt Lisa will still be interested in magic next week and so to not return her to normal at the end of the episode was a shame. Considering Raymondo was all alone it would have been easy to explain why she decided not to take up a life of illusion.
There was no adequate conflict between Raymondo and Cregg Demon explained either. Demon (a parody of Criss Angel) was then portrayed as the enemy of traditional magicians Penn and Teller, David Copperfield and Ricky Jay. Their appearance out of nowhere really spoilt the episode for me. It was a clear and sad signal that the team behind The Simpsons would rather meet celebrities than write a touching story. The fact that they were all given quasi-super powers was incredibly dumb and continues an annoying trend in the show. I was also left wondering what the audience for Cregg Demon's trick were thinking when he just didn't reappear.
Best Joke: The episode also wasted a little too much time on the opening Peach picking plot. It did however lead Bart to drag his cart of peaches along the sidewalk and complain aloud "What idiot put the dump so far away from where people live?" He then runs into Jimbo, Kearney and Dolph who are looking for a way to ruin the Horticulture Society's Chinese Lantern party. Bart proudly offers them his peaches. We then abruptly cut to them throwing Bart through the Lanterns while running away with all the peaches.
The Bottom Line: This story showed that even in this cynical age The Simpsons could be churning out touching stories. It's sad that the creative time just have no interest in that and instead write stupid sketches for celebrities that they want to meet instead. As a viewer I want to say "Get that off my TV and write something that I might care about."
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