“What happened to Mindy?” – Bart Simpson
“Yes, what did happen to her?” – Marge Simpson
“Enh, she hit the bottle pretty hard and lost her job.” – Homer Simpson
“Hm, good.” – Marge Simpson
I am not a big fan of Season 12’s “Trilogy of Error”. (In case you’ve blocked it out that’s the one where Lisa invents the robot, Homer gets his thumb cut off and three different stories all unfold at once.) But I do recognize that it took a lot of skill to weave three stories together like that. Getting all those little elements to drop into place couldn’t have been easy. So while I think those things were largely out of place in a Simpsons episode (where suspense and dramatic tension should never be the primary goal) I can at least see that some care went into creating it.
Then we have this week’s “The Color Yellow”, which incorporates the worst parts of “Trilogy of Error” while not even pretending to care about its story. Just look at the ending. Lisa spent the entire episode obsessing over her 1860-self and her efforts to help free a slave, Virgil. But then 1860-Marge is the one who actually helps Virgil get to freedom wherein she marries him and settles down. Except that to do so she abandons the kid she already has. This is awful in at least three ways.
First of all, she abandons her child. Regardless of any other considerations it’s tough to have sympathy for a character who walks away from her kid without a second glance. This is compounded by the fact that the ending is played as sweet and happy.
Secondly, in terms of continuity within this episode this makes no sense whatsoever. (Standard disclaimer: I don’t care much about backstory continuity between episodes, but it would be nice if the story within a single episode made just a lick or two of sense.) So Lisa isn’t actually descended from 1860-Lisa? And none of them are related in the least to 1860-Homer? Did the family move away from Springfield and then move back? Even this wouldn’t be so bad if the episode hadn’t spent all of its time being so relentlessly serious about how important its story was, but it did. The whole premise here is local family history and then the ending completely undermines that.
Finally, and most atrociously, in terms of competent storytelling this goes beyond indifference, disregards camp, and sets up shop in the most hacktacular place imaginable. We spend the bulk of the episode with Lisa see-sawing back and forth over whether or not 1860-Lisa managed to actually help Virgil. But 1860-Lisa vanishes three quarters of the way through, never to be seen, heard from, or even mentioned again. Up until the last commercial break she’s the central character of the story and then – poof – she’s gone.
This is especially damning when you consider how much screen time this episode wasted on useless filler. The attic scene, the whole diary in the vent thing, the completely unnecessary error messages on Lisa’s laptop when she’s trying to give her presentation, all of those things take time that could’ve been spent giving the story a real ending. (The computer errors were especially wasteful seeing as how they were just “update” messages with nary a joke to be seen.) “Trilogy of Error” may have wasted a lot of time doing things that weren’t funny for the sake of its overwrought narrative, but at least it had a narrative. “The Color Yellow” wasted time on things that weren’t funny just because.