Episode 18 - Separate Vocations
14 January 2011
Synopsis: An aptitude test declares that Lisa will be a home maker while Bart will be a policeman. Lisa is then told by a jazz teacher that she won't make it as a professional and is devastated. She gives up on her future and begins rebelling at school. Meanwhile Bart gets such a thrill from his amateur police work that Skinner makes him a hall monitor.
The Good: The story of Bart and Lisa temporarily swapping roles is beautifully told.
The key to the story is the plausibility of their respective changes of heart. The aptitude tests inspire them both to investigate their potential futures. Bart is a rebellious child always looking for more attention and recognition. Enforcing rules gives him the thrill of attention in a new way and so we can imagine him suddenly being willing to cooperate with Skinner and rule the school hallways with an iron fist. His ride along with the police was a suitably adrenaline fuelled catalyst to make that story happen.
Meanwhile Lisa won't be deterred by an aptitude test and heads off to consult an actual Jazz player on her potential. When he points out her physical drawbacks she loses all hope. Her story is even more believable than Bart's. In her own words she is the "overlooked middle child" (312) and she channels her angst and anger into her blues music. Now that the potential for her music to carry her to greatness has been snuffed out she sees no point in continuing to study and behave. So she seeks out the rebels at school and then uses her brain to outsmart the school teachers.
This of course brings Bart and Lisa's paths together and he takes the blame for the missing teacher's books. It's the perfect end to the story and utterly touching. Bart knows Lisa's potential and is already comfortable being the bad child. So he sacrifices himself to save her, it's one of his great redeeming moments.
Along the way the writers squeeze in some satire. They are particularly clear about mocking the capabilities of the elementary school teachers who are portrayed as cowardly, cynical and incompetent. The police officers are corrupt and ill educated too adding to the picture of life being filled with those who don't take genuine pride in their work. Much of this characterisation isn't done with a punch line in mind, the writers are just confident enough to paint the dark sides of the world as they really can be.
The jokes are mixed with heavy parody of the police genre both in school and out of it. On the ride along Ed calls in the vehicle they are pursuing by saying "We're in pursuit of a speeding individual. Driving a red...car." After Snake crashes in the alley Chief Wiggum finds lottery tickets in his car and announces "Looks like you just bought yourself a lottery ticket...to jail." When Lou tells him that Snake is unconscious Wiggum retorts "Well they can still hear things!"
The Bad: The police parodies continued in the school, less successfully. Skinner implausibly claims that before Bart cleaned up the school "There were some corners of this school that you would just never go down." Bart also shows him a faked note from Nelson to which Skinner gasps "so he didn't have leprosy!" Stuff like that just nudges the jokes over the "too silly" line. Speaking of which the "subtle" aptitude test had questions like "I prefer the smell of a) gasoline b) French Fried or c) bank customers?"
The cops shouldn't have given Bart a gun. He could just easily have gotten out of the police car of his own volition.
Best Joke: When Bart takes the blame for Lisa he tries to rekindle his old rebellious ways. When Skinner gives him four hundred days detention he retorts:
B: "Yeah four hundred days, I could do that standing on my head."
S: "Alright five hundred days."
B: "Woo hoo hoo big man!"
S: "Six hundred days!"
B: (In the same mocking tone but suddenly quieter) "Well maybe I'll just shut my big mouth."
The Bottom Line: A really well constructed story with a lovely ending.
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