The 2011-2012 season finale was a painful reminder of the only thing that annoys me about "The Simpsons." The makers of "The Simpsons" have a disturbing habit of handing the most important guest star roles to the most irritating, unfunny and talent-challenged celebrities of the month. I honestly didn't think it could be possible for a celebrity guest voice to destroy my enjoyment of any single episode more than Ricky Gervais in the episode he also wrote about a wife-swapping reality show.
And then came Gaga.
What makes the Lady Gaga-centric episode of "The Simpsons" even more excruciating to watch? Why is this inexplicable example of bad judgment on the part of the writers an instant candidate for Worst Episode Ever status above and beyond the Gervais episode? Because even though Ricky Gervais made 22 minutes of "The Simpsons" seem like 44 minutes of "Family Guy" the episode he ruined had nothing going for it. The tragedy that is "The Spy Who Learned Me" is that the absolutely unfathomable unpleasantness of Lady Gaga personally and the comprehensive failure of the writers to wring one single bit of humor from her persona ruined what could have been a classic plot.
"The Spy Who Learned Me" was about Lisa Simpson falling into a sordid little grief hole due to her winning a school award as the least popular kid and then trying to fool her critics into doubting their decision by anonymously posting positive messages about herself on a social networking site. The idea seemed to be to use Lady Gaga as a metaphor for how society chooses the most undeserving people for worship. That initial concept them seemed to be mixed with the message of individuality trumping criticism in the battle for self-esteem.
Problems? First, you can't criticize shallow worship of even more shallow celebrities by worshiping them within the story unless you distance it with irony and satire. The second problem is that one of the most difficult things to do in art is parody something that is already a self-parody. The jokes leveled against the fact that Lady Gaga is nothing but surface fell flat mostly because the writers they carried no barbs of honesty. Everything falls apart at the end of the episode when Lisa Simpson seems to suddenly and without motivation gain insight and wisdom from Lady Gaga. That would have been a great set-up for a concluding satiric shot, but the writers for some reason even shied away from the irony of presenting Lady Gaga as an icon of individualism. This seems ridiculously easy to pull off when when her entire act is nothing more than a pastiche of more talented performers with far more to say.
And let me end on that note: if I had to listen to Lady Gaga's voice one more minute, I think I would I would have shot the TV.
For more from Timothy Sexton, Yahoo!'s first Writer of the Year, check out:
- Arts & Entertainment
- Ricky Gervais
- The Simpsons