Lisa finds a new calling, but with great power comes the responsibility not to blab it to cute boys in disguise. Meanwhile in Springfield….that's it, really. The guest stars crawl out of the woodwork and the milk cans in "The Great Simpsina", but fortunately, the episode we're still left still has some genuine heart and charm - and thanks to Homer, some good laughs, too.
When Marge's peach craze gets out of hand, Lisa finds herself in the home of The Great Raymondo (Martin Landau), an old magician who bemoans that he has no one to share his craft with in the days of brash, crass upstarts like Craig Demon. Lisa is an eager student, learning how to make Bart cough up child scissors and garden shears, and becoming the child Raymondo never had. He teaches Lisa the secret behind his most famous magic trick (learned from Houdini himself), but Craig Demon's minions are everywhere, and Lisa learns that when confronted with angry illusionists, the tricks are all too real.
I was leery of this episode, at first; The Simpsons have all-too-often relied on guest voices as a crutch in the recent past, stringing along passable jokes and storylines with celebrity cameos. Fortunately, "The Great Simpsina" seems to know how best to use its guest talent. One can never go wrong with Martin Landau, who channels a generation's worth of acting into his powerful and vulnerable Raymondo, the Last Gun in the West, desperate to ensure that the art of magic is not lost to the bling and jazz of modern upstarts (transparent parodies of Criss Angel). It's not an original character, but he and Lisa have such good chemistry (magic?) that watching the two of them work off, and with, each other, is the real gold of the episode.
There are laughs, too, which brings me back to how to properly use an array of celebrity voices. For one, they are used all at one time. They're also all used at the end (which helps, working better as a climax than a running theme). Lisa going all woozy for a murderous (but rugged and chiseled David Copperfield) and the bickering Penn & Teller provided the more comedic highlights. The episode is all Lisa, and since this isn't another one of those "brilliant Lisa has to put up with the cavemen around her" stories, "The Great Simpsina" works very well. Seeing the precocious eight-year-old girl discover the charm and beauty of magic harkens back to the days when The Simpsons' own magic and novelty hadn't diluted after twenty-two uninterrupted years on the air.
Maybe it's a shame that the best laughs of the episode come from Homer's buffoonery (whether lamenting "First I work? Then I pay? Then I have to eat fruit? Why was I ever born?" or holding Bart up by his ankles, and then forgetting why), but all the elements of "The Great Simpsina" add up well. You won't be bellowing laughter (although you might when Abe relates his story of how the Secretary of Agriculture became Secretary of the Interior), but the episode will leave you with a smile on your face. And really, after twenty-two years on the air, that's magic.
4.5/5.0: Simpsons stories that can deliver heart and humor are rare these days, but "The Great Simpsina" did it.