Ah, young love. The Simpsons so far has had no shortage in episodes featuring their kid characters struggling with their first crushes, but we haven’t had a Lisa one yet, so it’s her turn! She’s been crushed on by Ralph, but here goes Lisa’s first stab at romance.
Things start off with the depressing image of Principal Skinner eating alone in the teacher’s lounge before Superintendent Chalmers bursts in yelling his name. But apparently Chalmer is just an ass, and is just messing with him, because he isn’t mad yet. In fact he’s just there to show off his awesome 1979 Honda Accord, which is maybe sadder than Skinner eating alone. But after learning that Skinner is paying Agnes back for all the food he ate as a child, we see that Chalmer’s new car is missing its “H” hood ornament, which throws him into a rage. And after trying to steal Kearney’s ornament from his Hyundai, they begin searching the locker of everyone in the school.
And while that invasion of privacy is starting, we pop over to the goofy B-plot which begins with Homer trying to pull a fast-one on Apu by sticking all kinds of candy on his donut, because apparently the Kwik-E-Mart has some sort of “sprinkle your own donut,” situation going on. But Apu chews him out and Homer leaves sullenly, before seeing the police arresting a guy named Jimmy the Scumbag, who was caught pulling a telemarketing scam with an auto-dialer. And even though Homer hears all about the tortuous experiences Chief Wiggum has planned for Jimmy once he’s in jail, he still grabs the discarded auto-dialer with the intention of starting his own scam. Because Homer is an entrepreneur.
Back at the school we see Willie crow-barring open everyone’s lockers while Skinner investigates, which leads to Skinner getting hit with a dozen eggs that Bart had booby-trapped in his locker. They apparently spend the rest of the day doing this while all the kids stand there awkwardly, until they reach the last locker, Nelson’s. They cracked it open, and find a whole treasure-trove of stolen stuff behind a false back. And before Skinner degrades Nelson by making him do janitorial work, we see the first of several cute scenes where Lisa is chatting with Milhouse, while she explains that she doesn’t find his attitude impressive. And once they’ve caught Nelson the next step is to have everyone go into the gym where they find their stolen possessions, and get angry “apologies,” from Nelson. Including Lisa, who gets mocked by Nelson instead of apologizing for stealing her microscope. Surly these two will stay enemies.
Before the Lisa plot really kicks into gear we see Homer and Marge setting up Homer’s insane telemarketing scam, where he’s essentially calling everyone in town, claiming to be Happy Dude, and that if you mail him a dollar, you’ll be happy too. Which Marge hilariously refers to as tele-panhandling. And as the calls start going out we cut back to the school where we see Lisa struggling to pay attention in band while watching Nelson harass Willie outside, and when she ends up giggling at some of Nelson’s antics, we get this amazing scene:
Whole Class: “Lisa Likes Nelson!”
Milhouse: “She does not!”
Whole Class: “Milhouse likes Lisa!”
Janey: “He does not!”
Whole Class: “Janey likes Milhouse!”
Uter: “She does not!”
Whole Class: “Uter likes Milhouse!”
Mr. Largo: “NOBODY LIKES MILHOUSE!”
Poor Milhouse. But for starting this whole problem, Largo gives Lisa detention. And while she’s busy writing on the chalkboard, she keeps watching Nelson, who gives her advice on how to cheat the punishment, and she realizes that she has a crush on the bully.
And once Lisa has made this revelation, she goes and talks to Milhouse about it at lunch, where Milhouse sadly assumes that he’s the person she has a crush on. But Lisa crushes his dreams by saying that he’s more of a big sister to her, and she ends up convincing him to deliver a note to Nelson in class. And this doesn’t go well since Milhouse just gives him a note that says “Guess who likes you,” and when Nelson assumes that it’s Milhouse, he beats him up so bad he has to be rushed to the hospital. But as the ambulance leaves Lisa lets Nelson know that it’s her who likes him, and the two awkwardly discuss this development. They aren’t really sure what to do about this, but Lisa makes the first move by inviting Nelson over to her house.
But before they get there we see Homer is raking in the dough (two whole dollars!) with his scam, which he got from Grandpa and Jasper, who really don’t feel any happier. We then start cutting between the two plots as we see the various shenanigans Homer is up to, and Lisa’s sad attempts at getting Nelson to like her. Lisa tries to get Snowball II to act like a baby and get in a stroller, even though she has a perfectly good baby in the next room, and Nelson isn’t that impressed. Although we get a great moment where Bart is terrified that Nelson is in their house and says “I’ll probably never say this to you again, but you can do better.” And before we see Lisa go visit Nelson’s house, we see a really silly scene where the auto-dialer calls Professor Frink, who apparently invented it, which causes the auto-dialer to grow little wheel-legs and leave the house. But luckily Homer catches it and breaks its legs off so it can continue to harass the citizens of Springfield.
And after that we see Lisa checking out Nelson’s horrible, disgusting house, as she starts to think again about her crush. Mainly because he has a poster that says “Nuke the Whales,” and sings that little kid version of “Joy to the World” that’s about killing teachers. And when his song doesn’t go over well, he doubles down on horrible choices, and just goes to sleep so Lisa has to find her way home alone. She calls Marge, and ends up complaining to her about her poor choice in men, while the two argue about whether or not you can change a guy. And it ends up convincing Lisa that she can better Nelson, which starts by changing the way he dresses, and making him wear sweater vests. The two then go to the Springfield Observatory to look at the stars and talk, which leads to Nelson kissing Lisa so she’ll shut up. But is surprised to find that it’s not that bad.
Unfortunately, once the kiss is over the other bullies show up, and start mocking Nelson for his clothes, and the fact that kissing a girl is “so gay.” But they decide to still invite Nelson to their fun-filled evening of throwing rancid coleslaw at Skinner’s house. Lisa objects, but Nelson is able to trick her and goes anyway. Nelson shows up at Skinner’s house, makes a pretty sick burn about Jimbo’s mom having a three-month waiting list, and start hocking the rotten goop at the house. But the cops show up, and the bullies end up scattering. And Nelson decides that the logical place to go is Lisa’s house, where we’re treated to a great scene that shows Homer’s auto-dialer is just calling the Flanders all night, driving Ned insane. Lisa and Nelson talk and Nelson says that he’s being framed, so they go hide out in the Observatory, which starts to feel like a reference to Rebel Without a Cause, but it never said anything specific about it, so I’m not sure. Oh, and the police show up to the Simpsons house where they shoot the auto-dialer, but don’t really charge Homer with anything, so that story is over. But back at the Observatory, Lisa and Nelson are using the binoculars at the observatory and Nelson accidentally lets slip that he actually was at Skinner’s house. Which does not go over well with Lisa. They fight and Lisa realizes that you can’t actually change a guy. So they break up, and Nelson says a really sad line where he says Lisa was the first person who ever though there was a nice guy inside of him, even though it didn’t really pan out. So Lisa leaves, and has a funny scene where she talks to Milhouse as he’s walking his lame little dog, giving him a sliver of hope that they could someday date.
This is a pretty great episode, and probably the best of the “kids’s first crushes,” ones that I’ve seen. This one was pretty realistic, especially Lisa’s confusion at why she’s attracted to Nelson, because that doesn’t always make a whole lot of sense. Plus, it makes so much sense that Lisa thinks she’ll be able to change a guy, without realizing that that is a pretty horrible plan. She sees Marge constantly trying to change Homer, and even gets permission from Marge that that’s not a terrible plan, even though Lisa has empirical evidence that is sure isn’t working for Marge. And lo and behold, it doesn’t work for Lisa. You really can’t change people, at least not to that degree. My wife has helped me be more social, and I’ve made her more of a nerd, which ends up having us both kind of meet in the middle. Neither of those are drastic changes, and I really don’t think it’s possible to change a person by all that much. Or at least, if there is, it’s not advisable, because at that point why are you dating that person? You shouldn’t waste your time trying to “fix” someone and make them the person you want to date, and just go find that person you want to date.
Take Away: You can’t change people to meet your standards. Tele-Panhandling is a lucrative but dangerous hobby.
“Lisa’s Date with Density” was written by Mike Scully and directed by Susie Dietter, 1996.