Warning: Spoilers for The Simpsons season 34, episode 3.
While The Simpsons broke the show’s normal anthology episode format in season 34, this was a clever decision that allowed the series to mock its own critical decline over the last two decades. The Simpsons has been struggling with critics for some time now. While some individual episodes, like The Simpsons‘ future-set Christmas special “Holidays of Future Passed” (season 23, episode 9) have been deservedly acclaimed, the show as a whole has been seen as tired and a shadow of its iconic Golden Age self for some years now.
Luckily, The Simpsons is open to changing its formula and the series can still use new formats to help the show mock its decline. To this end, The Simpsons’ “Lisa the Boy Scout” (season 34, episode 3) was the first anthology episode to feature dozens of mini-vignettes instead of between three and five short stories. However, instead of being linked together by a framing device à la “22 Short Films About Springfield,” (season 7, episode 21), instead “Lisa the Boy Scout” was connected via a meta-story about the hacker collective “Pseudonymous” releasing all the awful unaired stories and scenes that could have tanked the show years ago, from Carl’s shocking Simpsons secret to an explanation for the show’s apparent ability to predict the future.
How The Simpsons Season 34 Changed The Anthology Format
The plot of “Lisa the Boy Scout” began with Lisa joining Bart’s boy scout troop, only for two masked hackers to interrupt the show’s broadcast and threaten to air dozens of terrible canceled Simpsons episodes unless their demands were met. When their bitcoin ransom went unpaid, the duo started to air a string of very brief shorts that mostly centered on minor Simpsons characters (as well as a few that concerned the show’s main leads). Usually, anthology episodes of The Simpsons tell three 7-minute short stories or, at most, five shorter stories, as was the case with “The Fight Before Christmas” (season 24, episode 8) and “Treehouse of Horror XXXII” (season 33, episode 3). However, this outing of The Simpsons season 34 broke the mold with a larger number of much shorter stories and a meta-framing device.
Why The Simpsons Season 34, Episode 3 Needed A New Style
Most of “Lisa the Boy Scout” was dedicated to the terrible plots that never made it onto The Simpsons, so numerous shorter scenes worked better than a handful of large stories. If The Simpsons had used their usual anthology episode format and broken the outing into three intentionally shoddy shorts that were each meant to be a vetoed storyline, the episode’s premise could have outstayed its welcome fast. When “The Simpsons Spinoff Showcase” (season 8, episode 24) aired decades ago, the writers expressed fear that viewers wouldn’t realize that the eponymous spinoffs were intentionally badly written and might find the episode annoying as a result. There was an even higher risk of this occurring with “Lisa the Boy Scout,” since the stories were intended to be too weak for television. Luckily, like The Simpsons season 34’s first couch gag, this episode proved the show could keep up with changing trends and tell quicker, shorter stories by making the wise decision to keep each of the “terrible storyline” skits very brief.
How Season 34 Keeps A Simpsons Tradition Alive
Like the aforementioned “Simpsons Spinoff Showcase,” and the classic “Behind the Laughter” (season 12, episode 24), “Lisa the Boy Scout” allowed The Simpsons to mock the show’s age, its evident lack of ideas, and its waning real-life cultural relevance. This is always welcome since The Simpsons is at its best when making fun of everything including the show itself, and the brevity of the shorts ensured that the joke itself wasn’t tired by the episode’s end. Ultimately, “Lisa the Boy Scout” was a clever way for the show to admit that it was running low on ideas this week and while the series didn’t need to explain how The Simpsons predicts the future, an episode that was spent mocking the show’s age and impact was the perfect time to mock this other widely held perception of The Simpsons.
Did Rick & Morty Inspire The Simpsons Season 34, Episode 3?
While “Lisa the Boy Scout” owed some inspiration to earlier episodes of The Simpsons, its short, freewheeling sketches and goofy, non-canon tone both betrayed a more recent inspiration. The channel-surfing aesthetic of “Lisa the Boy Scout” called to mind Rick and Morty’s “Inter-Dimensional Cable” episodes, while the “sort of canon, sort of not” nature of the stories was reminiscent of “Morty’s Mind Blowers” (season 3, episode 8). Much like Rick and Morty borrowed from American Dad, The Simpsons season 34 appears to have borrowed from the newer show to keep the formula of the series feeling fresh. This proved to be an effective strategy since The Simpsons has such a large, sprawling cast that the show could stage dozens of sketches without needing to introduce new characters (whereas most of the skits featured in Rick and Morty’s “Inter-Dimensional Cable” episodes center on one-off characters who are never seen again).
How The Simpsons Season 34 Brought Back Fan Favorites
Since many of The Simpsons supporting cast members are effectively one-joke characters, this approach was the perfect chance to bring back a lot of fan favorites who can’t sustain a full episode themselves. From Comic Book Guy to Disco Stu, “Lisa the Boy Scout” proved that The Simpsons season 34 doesn’t need to focus on goofy, well-liked backup stars for an entire episode apiece to make the most of them. While Homer’s friendship with Superintendent Chalmers proves that The Simpsons can still flesh out existing characters, not every one-joke figure needs a backstory and a larger role to play on the show.
Often, it can be fun to simply be reminded that these characters exist, as evidenced by the surreal implication that Disco Stu was secretly Marge’s real father. Thus, The Simpsons season 34 borrowing inspiration from Rick and Morty proved to be one of the show’s best decisions in a while, as it allowed the series to feel fresh and revamp its usual anthology format while still finding roles for characters who have largely been wasted or ever-exposed in recent seasons. The Simpsons season 34 needed to break with the show’s usual anthology format, but in doing so, it successfully made the series feel fresh and funny again.
More: The Simpsons Revisits A Classic Marge Mystery (& Makes It Even Bigger)