Homer, Lenny, Carl, and Moe go in on a lottery ticket together, winning $200,000. Carl leaves Moe’s to cash the ticket, but never comes back. The boys snoop through Carl’s now empty apartment looking for clues. Carl’s left a note: he’s gone back to his home country and he’s not coming back.
But where the hell is Carl from? Homer, Lenny, and Moe realize that despite twenty four years spent doing not much of anything together, they don’t know a whole lot about Carl’s personal life at all. Thanks to a reflection in a photo and some ancestry.com wizardry from Lisa, we discover that Carl’s adoptive family is from Iceland, and the three men set out to hunt him down.
Lisa and Bart, in the meanwhile, are driving everyone up the wall with their new-found obsession over the hottest new cartoon series, Ki-Ya Karate Monsters.
I always love it when Lisa gets to be a brat right alongside Bart. It’s the way she was characterized initially before her intelligence, love of music, and liberalism took center stage. These throwbacks to that are always fun. It helps to show another of Lisa’s many facets and that despite her wit, she’s still a kid.
I really appreciate that the prospect of a trip to Iceland isn’t treated like it’s nothing. I like that the episode takes the time to show Homer saying goodbye to Marge, and I especially like that Marge is worried about her husband going so far away. Like Lisa’s occasional brattiness, these are small things that help to make the characters feel like well-rounded human beings and not just cartoon characters, something The Simpsons prided itself for early on.
The boys catch up with Carl in Iceland. It turns out, his family was supposed to be the lookouts for their village, but reneged on their duties and allowed the barbarians to invade. All of this is told in an ancient saga in the Reykjavik museum under a big fuck-ass banner reading “epic fail.” Carl’s used the lottery money to purchase the missing page of the saga, which he hopes will show the truth of the event and clear his family name. The other guys are hurt and ask why he didn’t just tell them since they’re the best of friends.
Carl gets angry and says that they aren’t friends and never were since they’d always just sat around doing nothing, but never took the time to really connect with each other.
Carl’s feelings are certainly interesting. He (and Lenny) given loads of screen time since 1989, the lion’s share of that has been spent more or less as a prop or a punchline. How many episodes have really centered on him or Lenny, despite their regular presence in the series? Most of the time their interaction with Homer consists of a few lines and otherwise sitting quietly, sipping on beer. Hardly substantive bonds of friendship. Come to think of it whatever happened to that third barfly dude with the trucker hat that almost never says anything?
Hurt but not deterred, Homer, Lenny, and Moe learn Icelandic and decode the page, which turns out to paint Carl’s family in an even worse light than before. They won’t give up on their pal though, and regale the people of Iceland with tales of Carl’s kindness and generosity, and in the end, they forgive the Carlsons after a millennia of animosity. Because that’s really easy to do. As for Carl himself, he realizes that Homer n’ pals really are true friends.
So, music! One of the most-touted aspects of “Saga.” I’ve never listened to Sigur Rós willingly. It’s just not really my kind of music. That said, their much-anticipated score for this episode is really quite beautiful. It’s subtle, but integral to a lot of the Iceland sequences. It’s given moments to shine, but it never overwhelms the scene unnecessarily; it’s never unwelcome, and the episode wouldn’t have had quite the same atmosphere without it.
I’d love to seem more celebrity guests contribute in this way instead of the standard throwaway cameo. I think it’d be great to have more intelligent, talented folks come in to lend a hand on the production side. Bring in the best comedy writers you can find, the best animation directors, musicians whose work can help to breathe life into a story. Clearly, most entertainers are perfectly happy to have their animated counterpart wander through the frame for a second or two; why not put their talents to work?
“The Saga of Carl” feels big, despite running only 22 minutes and change. It’s not really a humor-heavy episode but what there is works very well. Most of the “Simpsons Go to Location X” episodes feel like gimmicks for the sake of easy stereotype jokes. While there’s certainly some playing with Icelandic custom here, “Saga” has a feeling of genuine scale and adventure, and at its center there’s a beating heart – the theme of friendship.