Hello and welcome to Laughing Place’s regular recap of new episodes of The Simpsons on FOX. This week’s installment, entitled “The Star of the Backstage,” is the first episode of the long-running animated sitcom’s 33rd season.
Chalkboard gag: None.
Couch gag: None.
“The Star of the Backstage” begins at a funeral for Franklin Chase, Marge’s high-school drama teacher. Homer (voiced by Dan Castellaneta) is in love with the choice of caterer and wants them to provide snacks for his own funeral: “I can’t wait,” but Marge (Julie Kavner) is distressed by how hard Mr. Chase’s students are taking his death. “Nobody grieves like theater kids,” observes Homer. In the corner of the memorial service, Bart (Nancy Cartwright) and Lisa (Yeardley Smith) are watching a TV showing a video recording of one of Marge’s productions, a musical about Y2K called The Millennium Bug. Homer says Y2K was “scarier than anything we have now,” and Marge explains that the show took place on New Year’s Eve, 1999. We dissolve back in time to watch a performance from the show, starring Lenny Leonard, Waylon Smithers, Barney Gumble, Kirk Van Houten, and others.
When Lisa asks where Marge was during the performance, she answers that she was in the wings calling all the shots as the stage manager. Mr. Chase’s wife (Tress MacNeille) enters the room and Marge embraces her, offering condolences. Mrs. Chase says she found an old prompt book belonging to Marge when she was cleaning out Franklin’s office, containing “all the cues for the entire production,” according to Marge, who also says she “definitely ran a tight ship, but in a fun way everyone loved.” Marge says she would have loved to be in the show, though she’s not much of a singer. “In my imagination I’ve got the voice of a Disney princess.” Marge says she’d give anything to feel the magic of that time in her life again, and when she opens the book a swirl of purple pixie dust wraps around her and enters her voice box. Suddenly Marge starts singing (in the voice of guest star Kristen Bell) a song about her desire to be back in the theater once again.
Marge reunites the cast of Y2K: The Millennium Bug and has her family chip in on rebuilding the sets. During the musical number, the Wiggum family stops Marge on the street. “Wow, you’re the director!” “Even more important: the stage manager,” Marge corrects Chief Wiggum (Hank Azaria). In the song, Marge complains about the drudgery of her everyday life while Bart and Lisa argue over a Bongo doll from Matt Groening’s Life in Hell comic strip. Then she joyously proclaims a return to her theater family as she and her cast approach Springfield High School. “Wow, Honey, those dorks are so excited to be in your show again,” admires Homer. “And I will do everything I can to support you… while I’m at Moe’s.” Lenny is wheeled up on a gurney and tells Marge he needs to drop out of the show because he “broke his hip while singing and dancing about feeling young again.” Bart suggests that Homer fill in for Lenny, and Homer’s reaction seems uncharacteristically enthusiastic about the idea: “One pair of super-tight dance pants, please!” Marge kisses Homer in appreciation, but as soon as her back is turned, he threatens his kids: “From this day forward, we are enemies forever and ever.”
At the first rehearsal, Helen Lovejoy (Maggie Roswell) says they can’t start without Sasha Reed, who was the original star of the show and got into Julliard after high school. Smithers (Harry Shearer) sighs when remembering Sasha and says, “You never forget your first diva. I wonder what she’s been up to.” Marge says she reached out to Sasha repeatedly, but never heard back. “I guess we’ll never know what happened when Sasha left little old Springfield for New York City.” “Never say never,” comes a voice from elsewhere in the theater. It’s Sasha (guest star Sarah Chase), who lowers to the stage on a sandbag. “Let me tell you all about it.” She breaks into a song about her life after high school and her days in New York. She claims to have hit the big-time and has befriended Broadway luminaries like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Patty LuPone, and Stephen Sondheim, and her song elicits a round of applause from the Y2K cast. Homer is aghast: “I know a famous person who knows what’s-his-name, who-is-she, and never-heard-of-him!” He snaps a selfie with Sasha, but Marge interrupts to get the rehearsal back on track.
Sasha says before they get into the technical stuff, they need to reconnect as an ensemble. She invites the cast to her lake house to do trust falls, but Marge wants to carve out time to run lines instead. “Marge Bouvier, you have not changed a bit.” Sasha agrees to run lines, but tells Marge not to wait up for the cast when they go out for their bonding session afterward. She takes Marge’s prompt book and leaves with everyone else, while Marge just looks dejected. “I was wrong– theater kids are super cool! Thanks for the hookup, Honey,” Homer says as he runs out the door. Later at another rehearsal, the cast performs a song from the Y2K musical: “How will I stay alive, when all of the computers think I died?” Marge gives minor notes on the performance and provides brownies for everyone, which the cast really seems to appreciate. “It’s true: I do matter,” Marge says to herself. She takes out a shoebox full of other memories from their high-school theater days. Kirk (also Azaria) finds his old guitar pick and starts playing a nostalgic song reminiscent of “Jack and Diane” by John Cougar Mellencamp.
During the song, entitled “Remember the Times,” Marge starts to realize she was never really invited along on any of the cast’s group outings. “Okay, I might have missed some of those specific moments, but I’m sure I’ll remember all the other ones.” But even when Kirk sings about a party at Marge’s house back then, it turns out Marge was at a tech run-through for the play and missed out on that as well. Homer joins in, saying he was at that party too. “You weren’t even in the show,” says Marge. “Yeah, but I was cool.” They also remember a time when their friend Jackie died and they “made it about ourselves when the reporter came.” Marge leaves the theater and sings in Kristen Bell’s voice again as she walks sadly down the street and store signs close ominously in her face. She returns to her teenage bedroom, where her mother (also Kavner) consoles her. “I never liked that Sasha Reed– taking pop out of the fridge without asking, getting us sued.”
Marge comes to the conclusion that everything has been Sasha’s fault, and she decides to teach her a lesson. She does some research using her mother’s ancient dial-up computer, then makes a presentation to the cast the next day: “I made some very interesting discoveries, requiring the printing of a revised playbill.” She sings a Wicked-inspired number about how Sasha has never really been in a Broadway musical: “She’s a fraud-way baby– a phony, a fake! She ain’t got what it takes.” The cast is shocked reading the new bio. “So you don’t know the people you said you knew, but who are they?” decries Homer. Sasha breaks out in tears and runs out of the theater, calling Marge mean. “I’m sure you’re all as angry at Sasha as I am,” says Marge. “But now we can wipe the slate clean and really come together as a family.” But instead of being relieved, the cast members are irate at Marge and storm out of the high school. “I think this is the kind of thing that makes people not want to invite you to stuff,” whispers Homer.
At home, Marge paces back and forth, muttering about her “stupid, ungrateful cast.” She loses patience with Bart and Lisa’s bickering, and Homer says he’s going to tell her through song about how it’s all her fault. He sings a jaunty tune in the bathroom to Marge, tap-dancing using his toenails, but it only seems to annoy her. “Now I know you may think you were just in your actions, but it makes my heart sink to see your infractions. Your feelings were hurt, but as bad as you blurt, your transaction compels a retraction.” At this line, Marge gives in and realizes she was wrong. “I did the one thing a stage manager must never do– I put myself before the show. She runs out to make things right, but first demands for Homer to let her see the “cast-only text chain.” She discovers that Sasha hasn’t yet left town, so she rushes over to Moe’s Tavern, where the actress is sharing a drink with Barney (also Castellaneta). “Remember the night of the cast party? You and me, in the hot tub?” “That night really happened!?! I thought I imagined it.”
Marge bursts into Moe’s and apologizes to Sasha: “Once my husband sang and danced to me about what I did, I felt terrible.” “All I wanted to do was recapture my glory days when I could have become anything,” admits Sasha. The rest of the Y2K cast enters, having been called to the bar by Marge, and she apologizes to them as well. “I was supposed to manage the stage, but instead I just managed to screw everything up.” She says there’s still time to put on “the best show of the latter part of our lives,” but suddenly Barney breaks out in song about why trying doesn’t get you anywhere while dressed as Freddie Mercury. Sasha interrupts him: “That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. Barney, nobody needs to do this show more than you… except me!” We cut to opening night of the musical and a sold-out crowd fills the high school auditorium. Backstage, Homer asks, “When I’m onstage and it’s not my turn to talk, can I look at my phone?” Marge sets him straight and gets everyone else in position to start the show.
We see a montage of Marge stage-managing Y2K: The Millennium Bug, fixing problems as the show goes along. As the final moments approach, Homer of course gets caught looking at his phone, but Marge texts him his lines. The show ends before the stroke of midnight, and Lisa and Bart call it “a coup out” and “just lazy” in the audience. Lenny applauds from his wheelchair, and backstage Sasha thanks Marge for reminding her “how good it feels to be a big fish in a small pond.” Marge angrily reminds her about not being able to afford college because of the lawsuit Sasha was responsible for. “Such timey times,” says Sasha, who walks away to sign autographs. While she’s packing up, two young drama students approach Marge and ask her to sign their prompt bible. “You’re a stage-managing icon,” says one of the high schoolers. They invite her to the diner to hear her theater stories. “I’m getting cheese fries!” exclaims Marge, but while she’s at the diner the Y2K cast drives by in a limo and Homer yells “Cast party at Marge’s house!” from the open sunroof. Over the episode’s credits, we see a photo montage of the theater group’s adventures over one of the songs from Y2K: The Millennium Bug: “What happens to a two-digit soul in a four-digit world?”
New episodes of The Simpsons air Sunday nights on FOX.
Mike serves as Laughing Place’s lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly “Who’s the Bossk?” Star Wars podcast. He’s been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general all his life and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.