Well look what time it is, flashback episode! I feel like we haven’t really had one of these in a while, which is a real shame. I’m on record for loving these episodes a lot, and this is a great one. Plus it’s yet another amazing Lisa episode, further solidifying that Lisa episodes were probably the most consistently great ones.
The episode opens like the beginning of All in the Family with Homer and Marge playing a piano and singing about how the time when Michael Jackson still was black were the good old days. Which doesn’t really go anywhere and slides right over to a weird slam on the WB network by having a commercial featuring Michigan J Frog singing the line “We’re proud to present on the WB, another bad show that no one will see!”And it turns out that bad show is a made-for-TV movie about Krusty the Klown. Which also goes nowhere. Off to a weird start. But as Homer and Bart are watching the Kruty show they’re interrupted by Lisa playing her sax, so Homer practices good parenting and sends Bart up to stop his sister from playing. And as we all know, Bart is great at being terrible to Lisa, so a struggle ensues, leading to her saxophone getting thrown out of her bedroom window, where it’s then destroyed by a series of vehicles and Nelson.
Lisa is obvious upset about this, holding her mangled saxophone while weeping. Homer feels bad about this, and offers to destroy something Bart loves in retaliation, while also promising to destroy something Maggie loves, which is a power drill. But Lisa doesn’t take him up on the offer, and they instead start reminiscing about how Lisa got her saxophone. Apparently Lisa has had the instrument for as long as she can remember, so it’s high time she learns how she got it. So we cut to 1990 where Bart is getting ready for his first day of kindergarten. And he’s psyched. Even without Homer giving him the advice Abe gave him on his first day of school, “Homer, you’re dumb as a mule and twice as ugly, if a strange man offers you a ride I say take it!” So Bart heads to school, excited about his new career as a student, only to find that school is horrible. He sits through boring assemblies, can’t play on the grass, and his teacher is openly rooting against him.
And it’s at this point that Homer forgets what he was talking about, and decides to end the story about Bart’s first day at school. But when Lisa reminds him he was supposed to be talking about her saxophone, he gets frustrated and quits. So Marge takes a shot, and once again the story becomes about Bart and his lack of interest in school. Turns out he’s doing so bad in school that he’s starting to get depressed, so Homer and Marge have to figure out what’s wrong. We also get to see Homer watching Twin Peaks, which is a show I’ve never seen and most of my knowledge of the series comes from the Simpsons, specifically this part where a man is dancing with a horse. And after checking with a Mr. T looking Dr. Hibbert, they decide to go talk to Dr. Pryor about Bart’s psychological health. But as they talk to the guy he stops caring about Bart, and notices that little toddler Lisa is really bright. He does some quick tests with her, and informs Homer and Marge that Lisa may be gifted, and should be nurtured.
So Bart is kicked to the curb as Homer and Marge try to figure out a way to nurture her innate intelligence so that she can one day win the Nobel Prize for kickboxing. They then end up at some snooty private kindergarten that wants to charge them $6,000 for what essentially amounts to daycare, which I’m not sure if it was meant to be a joke in 1997, but that’s totally a thing people do now. And the Simpsons obviously can’t swing that tuition, so it looks like Lisa’s gifts are going to be squandered. Which, since they still are in the present probably doesn’t bode well for the rest of the episode. And after a brief break where Grandpa shows up and talks about the dancing craze called the Funky Grandpa that’s sweeping the nation, they get back to finish up the story.
Turns out while they were struggling with Lisa’s gift, Springfield was going through a record-breaking heat-wave, and the Simpsons of course don’t have air conditioning. Homer’s solution of having the original Snowball fan a block of ice towards him isn’t working well, but while all he can think of is ways to mitigate his heat, Marge is trying to come up with ideas on how to teach Lisa things that are also free. They think about going to the museum, but since they don’t have foosball Homer isn’t in. And since there aren’t any good free alternatives, Marge suggests using the $200 they have saved for an AC unit to spend on Lisa, but Homer pitches a fit.
Meanwhile, even though Bart’s horrible teacher is continuing to crush his spirit, little Bart has finally started to find himself and his true purpose. He meets little Milhouse, who looks so pitiful, and realizes that he’s a great class clown, and starts becoming popular while throwing away any hope he has at an intellectual future. But Lisa is still no closer to finding something to make her special. That is until Homer brings Lisa to Moe’s, like a good parent, and as they’re heading home he stops to gawk at the It Blows air-conditioning store. Turns out there’s an AC unit for $200, so his dreams are coming true!
That is until he sees Lisa has crossed the street to look at the plethora of musical instruments for sale at King Toots. Homer goes to grab Lisa, and realizes that musical instruments may be a good way to nurture a gifted child. So they head in, and Homer starts pointing to all the instruments, looking for one that catches Lisa’s fancy. And when he lands on saxophone, she gets super excited. And so is Homer, until he realizes that it costs $200. But after a moment of contemplation, Homer decides that physical discomfort is worth his daughters happiness, so he buys the sax, and gets it engraved with “To Lisa, never forget your daddy loves d’oh!” since he dropped it on his foot while dictating. So that’s how Lisa got her sax! You know, the one that’s destroyed in the present. So Lisa is still sad, even though she now knows the history of her beloved instrument that’s in pieces. But as she sadly excepts her new life without her only creative outlet, Homer decides to spend the money that they currently have saved up for a new saxophone. So Homer goes and gets a brand new saxophone, with the inscription “Dear Lisa, may your new saxophone bring you years of d’oh.” And the episode ends with Lisa proudly playing her new sax while we get a brief montage of Lisa playing the sax through the seasons, while Marge tells Homer he’s a good father, because he actually is.
Man episodes that revolve around Homer being a complete softy for Lisa warm my heart. There have been a few sweet episodes with Homer and Bart exploring their relationship, but there’s just something about Homer and Lisa bonding that just hits me right in the spirit. It’s just so sweet. I give Homer a lot of shit, even in this article, for how negligent of a parent he can be, but when it gets down to it, he’s a pretty great dad. I don’t have kids yet, but based on how I treat my dog I know I’m going to be a complete push-over and give my kids whatever they want. But the thing is, Homer doesn’t just shower the kids with random gifts, they don’t have the money for that. But when Lisa actually needed something, he dealt with the financial hit and got it for her. Lisa’s saxophone really is her only output in the intellectually repressive world that is Springfield, and it’s hard to imagine her actually surviving with the thing. I’ve talked about this a lot, but I’m finding it so incredibly impactful that Homer knows his greatest accomplishment in life is going to be making sure Lisa goes on to bigger and better things, and this episode is just another example of his self-sacrifice to help Lisa’s life. Which is pretty beautiful.
Take Away: Nurture your children’s passions.
“Lisa’s Sax” was written by Al Jean and directed by Dominic Polcino, 1997.