The Simpsons have tangled with magic and magicians a few times before. Bart took it up as a hobby in “The Great Money Caper.” Milhouse was attacked by cats in an ill-fated attempt to pull one of his hat in “$pringfield.” Even Homer interrupted a show by Penn and Teller in in “Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder,” leaving Teller worse for wear. Now, it’s Lisa’s turn to get in on the act in Season 22’s “The Great Simpsina.”
In this episode, The Simpsons take home a boatload of peaches, and in the kids’ desperate attempt to get rid of the excess, Lisa runs into an old magician. This graying illusionist named The Great Raymondo (voiced by Martin Landau) takes a shine to her, and eventually takes Lisa on as his apprentice. After he teaches Lisa the secret to his greatest trick, one passed down to him from Houdini himself, she unwittingly reveals it to his greatest rival. – Craig Demon, a thinly veiled parody of Criss Angel. From there, Lisa tries her best to make it up to her magical mentor, and stop his impetuous young rival.
I really enjoyed this episode, and it stands out as one of the finest that Season 22 has had to offer. It had an engaging story, a great use of guest stars, and laughs galore. The show was really firing on a cylinders here, and the end result is not only a funny, but a well-rounded episode that kept me laughing and invested the whole way.
Unfortunately, the episode started on a low note. The Simpsons trip to the peach orchard fell into the grand tradition of pointless and random opening gag-fests that later become all but irrelevant to the main plot. I’m generally okay with that sort of thing, and it’s especially forgivable when the rest of the episode focuses on one main story, but this fell flat pretty quickly. Jack McBrayer’s peach song was funny for about five seconds, but it just kept going on and on. You can tell the writers are really reaching for material when they’re throwing peach-related humor at the audience. This sort of opening bit only works if the lack of plot is balanced out by some solid comedy, and there were scant few laughs to be had in the first few. The lone guffah-worthy line came from Homer, who, upon finding out that he wasn’t getting paid for his afternoon’s worth of peach-picking lamented, “I work, then I pay, then I have to eat fruit?”
Thankfully, things picked up significantly afterward, and didn’t stop, both in terms of the story and humor. After facing Marge, who was determined to incorporate peaches into every family meal, the rest of The Simpsons decide something must be done. Homer distracted Marge by taking her to a masseuse, the “half-doctors, half-hookers who solve everything.” Meanwhile, the kids rode off with wagon after wagon of peaches to be rid of the dreaded fruit once and for all. In her quest to dump the peaches, Lisa ends up in a part of town that looks “kind of like Sesame Street,” and in a bad way. After hoping for Oscar the Grouch and instead getting chased by a raccoon, she found herself in the home of The Great Raymondo.
Which leads me to one of the best strengths of this episode – the use of guest stars. Too often, latter-day Simpsons relies too heavily on guest stars, most of whom make random or pointless cameos with little to show for it. Here, the show did not fall into any of its usual traps. Martin Landau dove into the character of The Great Raymondo, bringing a great deal of both emotion and wry humor to the part. He has a unique voice that well-suited for an elderly magician. His interactions with Lisa were pitch-perfect, and his experience and talent shone through the whole episode. Really a textbook example of how to use a guest star to their full potential on this show.
What’s even more surprising is that this episode also featured a guest star onslaught at the end, but managed to pull it off flawlessly. Every once in a while, the show’s producer decide to just pack a particular episode with guest stars. The results can be quite disastrous, like when Tom Brady, Warren Sapp, LeBron James, Yao Ming, and Michele Kwan all stunk up the joint in “Homer and Ned’s Hail Mary Pass.” They are just the most memorable of a series of uninspired attempts at the same sort of thing. Given that history, I groaned when I saw Ricky Jay, David Copperfield, and a returning Penn and Teller all appear on screen at once.
My fears, however, were unfounded. Almost every line they uttered was laugh-worthy, and their appearances were self-deprecating and fun the whole way through. I laughed out loud when Teller shushed Penn saying, “You speak onstage, I speak offstage, that was the curse the witch put on us.” Penn had a great bit of his own. Teller told him to just drop some dangerous items he was juggling, and Penn responded, “I can’t! I never learned how!” Surprisingly, David Copperfield was a joke machine, providing great delivery for lines like, “he stole my sexiest magical gestures” and “my beautiful body! It’s no longer properly lit!” All-in-all, this was the best use of guest stars in a long time.
This episode also featured a number of great classic-style Simpsons gags. The punny sign is a long tradition on the show, and a massage parlor called “Madame and Masseur” fit the bill perfectly. Grampa Simpson’s tale about the Secretary of the Interior and his house made of corn was one of the best rambling Grampa stories we’ve had in years. Additionally, Bart putting the giant rock on the milk canister with Lisa inside was some trademark mischief that has been either sorely lacking or too contrived in recent years. It’s nice to know the current incarnation of the show can keep up with these old chestnuts.
Another area where this episode soared was the soft undercurrent of emotion that ran through the entire time. The writers’ seem to have recognized the utility in putting a little more emotion into the show in recent years, but frequently either the tone is a bit off or it’s just sort of tacked on at the end. Here, The Great Raymondo’s wistfulness over his deceased wife, his former career, and the intersection of the two gave the episode some extra depth that helped the episode hit home. Much of the credit again goes to Martin Landau’s performance, but the writing played its part as well. Lines like, “the only magic we couldn’t make is a child,” were even a little heavy for a comedy show, but it worked. It sounds a bit odd, but Raymondo’s dance with an ether-induced hallucination of his wife was pretty heart-warming, and shows how some light emotion throughout can payoff big in the end.
Still, all the emotion in the world doesn’t work for a show like this without some stellar comedy to balance it out, and this episode delivered in spades. There were so many great one-liners and bits of repartee. Raymondo’s exchange with Lisa along the lines of, “This is a house of magic,” “sounds like most of it is owned by the bank,” “the rest of it is magic,” cracked me up. Homer got into the act with some of his patented boobery in lines like, “Hello boat store, I’d like to order a boat. What do you mean, dial tone!?” To boot, Martin Landau put his great comic timing on display with cute lines like, “First you must make me a vodka tonic.” “You’re out of tonic.” “That won’t be a problem.”
The show also featured a number of great visual gags. Raymondo’s crystal ball phone was a cute bit, especially with the explanation that he got it after buying a subscription to the psychic hotline and then canceled the subscription. “They never saw it coming!” Martin and Nelson’s endless wedgie was a great magic-themed visual gag, and Nelson turning into a blanket was the icing on the cake. Lisa definitely made her contributions as well, from listlessly transforming a bird into a rabbit and then into Maggie, to throwing away her magician’s supplies only to find them magically back on her desk. Some of these were a bit corny, but they were also clever, and I got a big kick out of them.
Not every joke hit, though. In particular, they seemed to tack on unfunny lines at the end of a scene for no particular reason. When Lunch Lady Doris opined that real magic would be to “Find me a boyfriend that don’t get religious on me,” or when Homer shook Bart and said, “I forgot why I’m doing this,” it felt like they were trying too hard to force a comedic tag. Some jokes, like whole series of peach gags, just didn’t work.
Still, there was just some all around great humor here. Some of the gags were of the “blink and you’ll miss it” variety like Raymondo using his magic wand as a remote. Others were fine instances of the kids just being kids, like Nelson threatening that he’ll burn ants if God allows Lisa to come to harm in the midst of her magic trick, or Bart playfully quipping to one of Lisa’s potential suitors that she “has no friends.” Some of them were totally off-the-wall, like the random guy running off with Homer’s coat. Outside of the first few laughless minutes, it seemed like the writers just couldn’t miss with the comedy here.
Overall, this was really a great episode. Martin Landau as The Great Raymondo provided the episode with a fine emotional center, superb comic timing, and a likable new denizen of Springfield. The Criss Angel parody was a little on the nose, but he made for a fine antagonist. Finally, Lisa learning magic and then having to make it up when she reveals her mentor’s secret was a great plot that was bolstered by great humor. After a fantastic episode like this, the show’s writers have every reason to say, “I believe the expression is – tada!”
Edit: A number of people have come here looking for the lyrics to the peach song. I’m not sure why, since it was pretty weak, but here you go.
Oh, the year’s first peach / Is a juicy peach / And he sings a happy tune
And the year’s second peach / Is a grouchy peach / More like a prune
Now the year’s third peach / Is a God-fearin’ peach / Does what the Good Book tells him
And the year’s fourth peach / Is a moldy peach / Shame on the man that sells him
Now the year’s fifth peach / Is a fuzzy peach / Its kisses are quite ticklish
And the year’s sixth peach / Is a brining peach / It tastes so fine and picklish
And the year’s seventh peach / Is a learned peach / It’s workin’ on a novel
But the year’s eighth peach / Is a real proud peach / You’ll never see it grovel
Oh, the year’s ninth peach / Is a tough old peach / But he’ll make a hearty stew
And the year’s tenth peach / Is a rotten peach / Take a whiff – P.U.!