Well Season Six kicks off to a great start with a truly wonderful Lisa episode. This one usually isn’t held up with the same amount of esteem as “Lisa’s Substitute” or “Lisa the Vegetarian,” but I feel like it really should. It’s great, and deals with a pretty heavy topic that I guess isn’t quite as on the nose as those other episodes.
The episode starts off with some pretty depressing stuff where we see Lisa trying to practice her saxophone while getting systematically mocked by her family. She starts off in her room, but pisses off Bart while he’s trying to prank call Principal Skinner, and we learn that she’s practicing to try and get the first chair position in the school band. So Bart acts like a true sibling by just smashing his feet into her wall until she leaves. Her next stop is the garage where Homer is busy destroying a camera Marge asked him to fix, and ends up in the living room with Marge, who is reading some smutty Pirate Romance novel.
Marge: “Does that earring mean you’re a pirate?”
Pirate Guy: “Kinda.”
So funny. So Marge kicks her out too, and she ends up practicing in the backyard. And the next day at school she heads in to school and finds that there’s a new student in class, Allison. And she’s smart! So at lunch Lisa heads over to befriend her, and quickly starts to get freaked out, because Allison is a year younger than her, got skipped a grade, is trying out for the first chair of saxophone as well, and seems to be smarter than her. This understandably makes Lisa start to panic.
And while Lisa is panicking over the idea of an equal, we’re introduced to this episode’s absolutely bonkers B-Plot while Bart is steering the car for Homer while he eats a pizza. But Homer makes him stop the car when he sees an overturned Sugar Tanker Truck, which I really wish was the method of sugar transportation. So Homer sends the driver, Moleman of course, away and steals all of the sugar, while telling Bart the wonderful line from the Springfield Town Charter: “if foodstuffs should touch the ground, said foodstuffs should be turned over to the village idiot. And since I don’t see him around, start shoveling!” And Homer’s plan to become a sugar magnate is underway!
Back in Lisa’s plot, it’s time for the school band tryouts, and we see the wonderful gag of Jimbo playing tambourine by just punching it. And then it’s time for the saxophone tryout, and we’re treated to a straight up sax-duel between Lisa and Allison, which ends with Lisa holding a note for too long and passing out. And after a nightmare fake-out, she wakes up and is informed by Mr. Largo that Allison won. So Lisa heads home, and starts explaining to Marge how freaked out she is, because she’s never had anyone actually compete with her. She’s always been used to being the best, and then we see an incredibly sad scene where we see how much of a middle-child Lisa is while Marge tries to show her affection, and is shot down by Bart and Maggie. And things continue to get worse in school when she sees that Ralph has started trying to cheat off Allison now, and that the bully girls are picking on Allison instead of her, which makes Lisa oddly nostalgic.
And this sets Lisa down a dark path, because she ends up taking up Bart’s offer to dig up dirt on Allison. And man did I love the idea of Bart carrying around a tape recorder to document his mischief ideas. Plus it’s great that he apparently got Milhouse added to the America’s Most Wanted list, which has made him a wanted boy. Lisa is kind of put off by Bart’s suggestion at first, but after she has a hilarious dream where she’s in America’s second most popular band with Garfunkel, Messina, and Oates, she starts to take it a little more seriously. And after a hilarious little scene where we see that Tommy Lee Jones is forcing Milhouse to jump off a dam, we see Lisa has decided to try and befriend Allison again. But that quickly proves to be a terrible idea when she sees how much smarter Allison and her father are than her, and they kind of make fun of her for being bad at some weird anagram game they play. And to put a cap on the whole day, Lisa finds that Allison has created this wonderful diorama of the Tell-Tale Heart for an upcoming school contest.
While all of this is going on, Homer’s crazy sugar plot is still happening. After trying to sell it door to door, he’s just decided to horde it in a giant pile in the backyard while defending it from random British people who are stealing it for their tea. But he hits a wrinkle in his sugar horde when a swarm of bees show up to feast on his sugar. But that’s enough of that for now, back to Lisa’s slow descent into insanity! Turns out she’s been furiously working on a crazy Oliver Twist diorama, complete with every single character. But when she shows it off to Bart, complete with a simulated snowstorm, the diorama flies out the window and is destroyed. And that’s the last straw for Lisa, so she finally accepts Bart’s offer, and they decide to sabotage Allison’s project, after Bart just suggest spraying her with a hose.
Now, before we get to the end of the main plot, let’s discuss the end of Homer’s sugar plot. Things get even crazier when two bee-keepers realize that their swarm is gone, and they end up tracking them to Homer’s sugar mountain. They offer to pay him $2,000 for the bees, but right as he’s about to get the money, it starts raining, which destroys the sugar and scares the bees off. So now Homer is out of sugar, and money, and I guess his job since earlier Marge told him that the plant basically fired him for not showing up. Way to go Homer!
But back in the main plot, it’s Diorama-Rama time! We see Principal Skinner and Ms. Hoover looking at the other student’s submissions, which includes Nelson smashing grapes with a mallet for the Grapes of Wrath and Uter having eaten his diorama for Charlie and Chocolate Factory. And while all of this is going on, Bart sneaks in with a fake diorama and creates a distraction for Lisa to switch it out with Allison’s. She hides Allison’s in a convenient trap door in the gym, just in time for everyone to get ready for Allison’s presentation. And after it turns out that Bart’s fake diorama is just a box with a cow’s heart in it, everyone gets mad. Principal Skinner yells at Allison, and she starts crying, which freaks out Lisa. She starts panicking about her deception while hearing the beating of the diorama in the trap door. So she gives it up, and gives Allison her real diorama, which ends up not impressing Skinner and Hoover. But then, in a shocking turn of events, Lisa’s is also found wanting, so neither of them win. And the person who does win? Ralph, with his diorama of Star Wars toys in a box. So Lisa decides to stop competing with Allison, and just be friends with her, while the two start hanging out with Ralph, so that neither of them are the dumb ones anymore. “I beat the smart kids, I beat the smart kids, oooph! I bent my Wookie.”
This episode is really good. It doesn’t have quite the serious topic as some of the other Lisa episodes, and probably suffers from the fact that the best Lisa episodes are usually about her and Homer’s relationship struggling, but this one still is wonderful. It’s such a real problem that people run into, and it’s handled in a perfect way. It’s a really weird thing to come across the idea of someone being better at things than you. When you’re a kid you start to base your identity around things your good at, so when someone shows up and is better at you than the thing that you assume you’re the best at, it’s going to rattle your whole world. Hell, in “Lisa’s Substitute” she learns that she’s supposed to be herself, and in this episode she basically finds someone who’s better at being Lisa Simpson than she is! That is a heavy lesson. And it’s handled so realistically, by having Lisa just start to go crazy, until finally letting her inner good nature break through and she finally learns the lesson that the things that you’re good at don’t define her. Plus, the insane Homer plot is wonderful, and a great little palate cleanser for the emotionality of the episode.
Take Away: Kind of already explained it, but I think the main thing you learn from this episode is that you’re going to meet people that are better than you in life, and you need to not keep your self-worth tied up in things like that.
“Lisa’s Rival” was written by Mike Scully and directed by Mark Kirkland, 1994.
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons
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