Last week, we looked at the 19 individual scenes that make up “22 Short Films About Springfield,’ one of the most ambitious episodes The Simpsons has ever done. Because that was so much fun, let’s look at another far-out Simpsons episode with an experimental plotline: Season 12’s “Trilogy of Error.” This episode was a parody of the movie Go, and each act was sorted into three sections: Homer’s Day, Lisa’s Day, and Bart’s Day. Homer has his thumb cut off by Marge while attempting to steal a brownie (it was an accident). Lisa tries to get to school on time and turn in her science project, a robot named Linguo who will correct you’re bad grammar… I mean your bad grammar. Sorry, Linguo. Finally, Bart and Milhouse find a cave full of fireworks, and hijinks quickly ensue. Eventually, all three plots converge together, wrapping up an incredibly intricate 22-minute episode of television.
It’s generally accepted that the show’s best years were over by Season 12, but this is one of the few post-classic episodes that is consistently regarded as one of the best episodes of the series, and it’s not hard to see why. “Trilogy of Error” is not only incredibly imaginative, it’s hilarious from start to finish. We crack up at Flanders having the garbage truck swallow his entire can (“Son of a diddly!”) and Homer accidentally ruining Lisa’s grammar robot by giving him beer (“I’m sorry sweetie, I thought he was a party robot.”). Okay, this episode is pretty awesome, but does it have any plot holes? Glad you asked. There’s a TON of them. Let’s look at the flaws and question marks raised by “Trilogy of Error.”
Here’s one key error at the beginning of Lisa’s Day: When Lisa misses the bus, we see Martin on the bus saying, “Kiss first place goodbye, Lisa!”
Notice the blue-haired kid from the back? That’s clearly Milhouse. Which doesn’t make sense because Milhouse had a prominent role in Bart’s Day. When the bus arrives, Milhouse and Bart were riding their bikes to the cave full of fireworks. There are only two solutions I can think of for this: The Milhouse from Shelbyville from “Lemon of Troy” has since moved to Springfield and changed schools, or Milhouse wanted to get away with blowing off school, so he put a dummy version of himself on the bus. Sadly, we’ll never know.
At times, one bit of weirdness in this episode can distract you from another. In Lisa’s Day, she hitches a ride to school with Krusty, who is being chauffeured by Mr. Teeny. Unfortunately, he mistakenly drops her off at West Springfield Elementary School, leaving Lisa with even less time to deliver her science fair entry. At this point, I was so busy trying to figure out why Mr. Teeny drove her to the wrong school (did the similar architecture throw him off because they couldn’t afford to hire I.M. Pei?) that I became totally oblivious to the fact that a monkey was driving a car! The episode offers no solution for that, and all I can think of was that he was using the auto-drive system used by the truckers in “Maximum Homerdrive.”
This episode also leaves us wondering about time constraints. When Lisa and Marge are driving in Cletus’ stolen truck, just before she almost hits Bart as he’s being chased by Fat Tony and the mob, we hear Lisa say, “Hurry, it’s 10 to three!” So, it’s 2:50 at that point, and a LOT of stuff still happens. Bart and Milhouse get cornered in an alley, and Marge throws Linguo the Grammar Robot at the mobsters. Their overuse of bad grammar causes him to explode, landing conveniently right next to Homer, who appears to be far away from everyone else. Homer then meets up with the family, Fat Tony offers to have Legs — an experienced mob doctor — repair Homer’s thumb, and Lisa turns that in as her science project, winning first prize. So, what time was it when Lisa gave her presentation? Had to be close to 5, right? How long does the school day go on at Springfield Elementary? Do they stay longer on science fair day? Was this another situation like in “The Boy Who Knew Too Much,” where they had to stay an extra two hours because the clocks had been running fast all year?
But that’s not even the weirdest thing. Ms. Hoover is completely okay with the freaking mafia in her classroom? And it’s not like Lisa tries to cover this up. She explicitly cites his experience as a mob doctor. That’s a bit weird, right?
When it all ends with an exasperated Mr. Teeny claiming, “This plot made no sense! Tell the people!” I’m inclined to agree. Still, none of the things I mentioned take me out of the episode. It was a strong show, and it also happens to be funny as hell. There are definitely some plot holes, and some generally awkward developments in the storyline, but when an episode tries to do so much and succeeds so frequently, I’m willing to overlook that. “Trilogy of Error” is rightfully considered to be one of the finest episodes of the post-classic Simpsons era, and one can’t help but think that if the show attempted something this bold now, it might be able to get its old groove back.