Not a lot of people know this, but The Simpsons has been nominated for an Oscar. While The Simpsons Movie itself missed out (though it was nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe), the very first Simpsons short, Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare, was up for Best Animated Short Film. Though it eventually lost to Paperman, it felt like a historic moment for The Simpsons. This came in 2012, well after the Golden Age had disappeared, and after the feature-length movie was snubbed for even a nomination, it was clear this was not a charity pick on name-brand recognition. The short, which is entirely silent and relies on excellent characterisation of Maggie, was still recognisably The Simpsons with a blend of silly yet intelligent humour, heartfelt moments immediately offset with gags, and better quality animation than the show had ever seen at that point. So what the hell happened?
Following the success of Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare, we received a sequel – Maggie Simpson in Playdate With Destiny – which was pretty good, although a little derivative. This was used to set up The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Baby, a full-length episode that, while not entirely silent like the shorts, was supposed to be an extension of them to see if Maggie could carry a whole episode. You would think, after Puffless a few years earlier, they would have learned that she could not. Playdate With Destiny premiered on Disney+, but the timing of the short suggested that it was in motion before Disney bought Fox, and with it picked up The Simpsons. Even though Playdate setting up Unbearable Lightness wasn't a smashing success, it felt like the shorts were fertile ground for the show to try something fresh. As Disney got its claws into Springfield, that all changed.
The next short the show put out was again a silent Maggie short, but it was just a rehash of The Longest Daycare except now it was Star Wars, because remember how Disney owns Star Wars? While Playdate was clearly trying too hard to replicate what Daycare did well, the Star Wars short (The Force Awakens From Its Nap, the title being its only decent gag) was less of a homage and more of a cut and paste job. The next short moved on from Maggie entirely, centring on Lisa meeting Loki, just in time for the Loki show, because Disney also owns Marvel. It was called The Good, The Bart, and The Loki, which means not even the title is a decent gag. I have defended The Simpsons from a lot, but the Loki short might be the worst thing the show ever did, and that includes The Simpsons Skateboarding.
Now we come to the latest short, which released just this morning: When Billie Met Lisa. As you might have guessed, it sees Lisa meet Billie Eilish. Disney doesn't own Billie Eilish (I mean, not yet. It will soon consume all of humanity), but it does own Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles, Eilish's documentary/'cinematic concert experience' based on performances of her second album. After watching When Billie Met Lisa, Disney+ immediately suggests that you try out said documentary, and the Making Of special, in a little tab labelled 'Because You Watched When Billie Met Lisa'.
The short is fine. It's way better than Star Wars and Marvel's crossovers, and Eilish is a decent guest star, as I've written about here. But there's no point to it. There's no artistry, no reason. It doesn't represent anything new for The Simpsons as The Longest Daycare and Playdate With Destiny did, it doesn't have anything of note to say about either The Simpsons or Eilish, it's just using The Simpsons as an advert.
The Simpsons is still on the air and is the longest running primetime show in history, having left Gunsmoke in its dust several seasons ago. Its current season is the best in a decade. Why is it being used as an advert for a pop star's documentary, as a warm-up act for yet another superhero show, and as a reminder that Star Wars exists? The Simpsons deserves better.
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