When it comes to supporting characters The Simpsons have them up the proverbial wahoo. Many, like Flanders, Mr. Burns, Apu, and Millhouse, are distinct personalities with lengthy back stories that I know quite well. Others, like Bumblebee Man, Cletus, Kent Brockman, and Comic Book Guy, are known, but only by the stereotypes that they have been given. Fortunately, most of them have been given spotlight episodes to flesh them out a bit more.
While these episodes have been hit or miss, I have always found them to be quite interesting because they gave a different perspective on life in Springfield.
Granted, one Simpson or another was usually involved in their spotlight show, but they were usually in the background. This gave the character, whom we saw countless times on screen with a gag line or two or just in a group shot, a chance to shine and garner a new set of fans. And, since there are probably well over a hundred characters on The Simpsons to explore, and the show has run for nearly two decades, there has been ample time to explore each and every one of them. Which begs the following question...
Why have a spotlight show for Lurleen Lumpkin?
If she was a recurring guest-star like Sideshow Bob I wouldn't have an issue with it as he has appeared many times over The Simpsons run. The thing with Lurleen is, other than some very brief cameo appearances, the last time I really saw Ms. Lumpkin was, well, her first appearance on the show in Season Three!
Again, I refer back to Sideshow Bob. As Bob has appeared at least once every season or two -- the most recent being this season -- viewers know about him and at least a bit of his back story. Lurleen? Other than the brief summary that Bart gave about her this episode no one but the most die-hard and long-term fans knows about her. Because of that lack of back story the viewer uses to determine if they should like or dislike this character, the episode fizzles.
Which is what it did. And, this is coming from someone who saw "Colonel Homer" during its original run and knew the whole back story about Lurleen's unrequited love for Homer (and her apparent obsession with men who looked like Homer). If it was really about Homer coming to the rescue of Lurleen, placing the Colonel hat on once again, and returning her back to the stage I would have had a different opinion. However, by throwing that whole plot about her delinquent father into the mix all I could say was 'What the hell?' to my television, which didn't respond because it's actually a television.
It didn't impress me one bit and, frankly, it all seemed kind of rushed. In the first act I only got about five minutes of Lurleen and her back story. Then, in the second act, I had the delinquent father and the reunion. Finally, in the third act, the Dixie Chicks somehow got involved because Lurleen's father stole one of her songs (more on that below) and made it his own. Heck, even the joke of how the Chicks were now loyal to Fox News and changed their ways about America was unfunny.
I also found the Simpsons, other than Marge, to be unusually subdued. Oh, there was a good Bart-Lisa gag with Homer having a picture taken of his butt and put on a T-Shirt, but for the most part they were a bit quiet. Even Homer was very un-Homer-like, including his dream sequence where he ends up killing his Dad. It was just an off show all around.
The only good thing to come out of this episode is I finally got a few new songs. I liked her "Daughter" song as it was more upbeat and the entire Simpson family got involved rhyming to the word "daughter" (Harry Potter, Estee Lauder, etc). I enjoyed Lurleen's sad country ballad as well, only because I got to see Maggie (who has been incredibly ignored this season) pull a little Back to the Future gag by holding up her toy telephone to the air vent so the unibrow baby could hear the song.
I'll be honest...I had a feeling that this would be a mediocre episode at best after three fairly strong outings. I can only hope that the writers and producers over at The Simpsons will reconsider the next time they decide to give a solo opportunity to a supporting character many people don't remember.