Here we go guys. The first truly great episode of the Simpsons. I feel like this is a super familiar story, but as a kid, I was not a fan of Lisa episodes. As a little boy, I wanted to just watch funny Bart of Homer episodes. The Lisa episodes were slow, and about serious issues, and when I was little, I thought they were boring. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to love them. I was definitely some sort of combination of Lisa and Milhouse as a kid, and who knows, maybe it was an awkward feeling of self-loathing that kept me from wanting to like the Lisa episodes. But now, I love them. And “Moaning Lisa” is a great start to the subgenre of ‘Lisa Episodes.’
The thing that I always find so great about Lisa episodes is that they still manage to have a good sense of humor. They’re not rapid-fire joke machines like some of the classic Homer or Bart episodes, but they still manage to have some seriously great jokes to counterbalance the messages and morals. The silly sight gag of Lisa using a toothpaste called Glum, or the fact that Homer calls her saxophone practice “crazy beebop” are just the right type of silly jokes that don’t distract from the episode, but act like a weird comedic palate cleanser.
Anyway, the main plot of the episode, is that Lisa is feeling unexplainably depressed. Life just isn’t working well for her, and she doesn’t understand why she’s sad, and why people aren’t okay with it. She doesn’t want to play dodgeball with the other kids, probably because they’re all just pelting her, and she just gets mocked by everyone, including the gym teacher. It’s pretty rare for a show to talk about depression, especially depression in kids, and even more especially in a cartoon. It’s what makes the Simpsons so great. There’s also a great joke where Bart and Lisa debate who Maggie loves most, which ends with Maggie choosing her true favorite sibling, the television. Lisa continues to feel sad, trying to practice her saxophone while making the least amount of noise to not bother the rest of the family. But then she hears the sound of someone else playing the sax from the window, and she goes out to find who is making the beautiful music. She ends up meeting Bleeding Gums Murphy, a jazz playing saxophonist whose sitting on a bridge beneath a crazy electric blue moon, playing his soul out. They jam for a while, Murphy being impressed by Lisa’s skills, and he teaches her the true meaning of the Blues: “he blues isn’t about feeling better, it’s about making other people feel worse.” Great. But Marge shows up and takes her away from the totally sketchy dude hanging out on a bridge in the middle of the night.
Now, while all the Lisa stuff has been going on, there’s a funny Bart/Homer side story going on where Bart and Homer are competing over a boxing videogame that Homer is terrible at. Bart’s kicking his ass contently, which is making Homer begin to have fears of inadequacy, and a sort of Oedipal fear, even leading to a great dream where Homer is being beaten up by a younger, tougher Bart. The story ends up having Homer pay a kid at an arcade to train him to be a better player, which enables him to actually beat Bart…before Marge pulls the plug on the tv, causing the game to stop, and Homer to still never win.
While Lisa is feeling depressed, Marge starts to try and fix everything, to some pretty weak results. Marge has a dream/memory of when her mother gave her the advice to just smile through the pain, and Marge decides she needs to give Lisa the same advice, which is just part of growing up, leading Homer to have the great line of “this is some kind of underwear thing.” So Marge tells Lisa to just grin and bear it, but after she sees some school boys, and the music teacher Mr. Largo demean her. So Marge whips around and grabs Lisa, speeding off from the school. She then teaches Lisa the truly important life lesson that sometimes it’s okay to be sad. There are times in life that sadness and depression are just going to exist, and there’s no use fighting against it, because it’s just going to be temporary. You have to take the good with the bad. It’s a very sweet moment.
The episode then ends on the great note of having the family go out to the Jazz Hole, the club Bleeding Gums Murphy plays at, to support Lisa and her interests, and they all have a good time, even though the realize that the song he’s singing is one Lisa wrote that’s about how lousy the family can be some times.
This is such a good episode. Like I said, I feel like tv shows really shy away from depression, especially in children. As someone who has struggled with depression, it’s always great to hear pop culture say that there’s nothing wrong with being sad. It’s not a deficit Lisa has to deal with, its just a part of life that’s going to happen sometimes. You just have to keep things in perspective. Lisa episodes usually always tackle big issues and morals, and I feel like this one was a courageous and heavy topic to tackle right of the bat, and they knocked it out of the park.
Take Way: It’s okay to be sad, I think I obviously the best take away this episode taught me as a kid. And I guess that not every sketchy dude hanging out on bridges at night are bad? Eh, lets not think too hard about that one.
“Moaning Lisa” was written by Al Jean & Mike Reiss and was Directed by Wes Arher
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons