You know what’s a good way to start off a week? A really heart-warming Lisa episode. I’m always a fan of Lisa Episodes, especially when they revolve around that central premise of Lisa becoming better than the family, and this is a pretty great example of that.
The episode starts off with the very unlikely lunchroom table of Bart, Lisa, Milhouse, Nelson, and Martin hanging out and complaining about how terrible the food that the cafeteria serves is. Which is exactly why Lisa has bought some sort of astronaut pre-packaged lunch. But the really interesting part of the lunch is that the back of the box has a little brain teaser from Professor Provolone with a series of strange symbols. And everyone quickly figures it out. That is except Lisa. The boys don’t tell her what the answer is, and it starts to drive her crazy. She even stays after school to try and figure it out, and gets even more upstaged when Ralph is able to solve it before her. And it only gets worse, because the next day she gets to school, exhausted from staying up all night trying to figure it out, and seems to have forgotten both her locker combination and some sort of agriculture project for class. So she quickly makes a pig out of an eraser and has the great interaction with Ms. Hoover.
Ms. Hoover: “I’m surprised at your Lisa.”
Lisa: [looks at the pig in shame] “Me too.”
Now before we check back in on Lisa and her problems we set up the wonderful and ridiculous B-plot. Homer wanders into the Kwik-E-Mart for an “after dinner burrito,” and while he waits for Apu to nuke it he ogles some pens that have naked women on it. And while pervy Homer is staring at the pens we see Jasper bring carton after carton of ice cream up to the counter, but never pays for it. Apu finally gets fed up with all the warm ice cream on his counter and goes to find Jasper. And what he finds is that Jasper has cleaned out one of the freezers, climbed in, and has cryogenically frozen himself, leaving behind a wonderful note that reads: “I have frozen myself so I may live to see the wonders of the future. Thaw me out when robot wives are cheap and effective. PS, please alter my pants as fashion dictates.”
Meanwhile, Lisa is home and realizing that her weird issues are starting to grow. She’s suddenly unable to play her saxophone and still can’t figure out that damned puzzle. So she heads downstairs to complain to Marge, but finds her busy giving Grandpa a haircut. However when Marge goes off to get some bactine Grandpa offers some sage advice. Turns out all Simpsons start off smart like Lisa has been, and lose their intelligence around their eighth birthday. He brings Lisa up to the attic and shows her proof that Homer used to be a champion speller, and Bart used to get straight A’s. Apparently the Simpsons gene makes people dumb and bald, and Lisa’s doomed.
So Lisa is really starting to panic, especially when she sees that Bart and Homer seem to love running into each other while wearing pots like helmets. She runs off to Dr. Hibbert, hoping that he can have a solution to her genes. Unfortunately all he has is a terrible film strip staring Troy McClure that only has a basic understanding of genes and can’t even say what DNA stands for. So that’s not a whole lot of help. And speaking of doctors, we check in on Jasper by seeing Dr. Nick give him an examination, proving he’s still alive. Which gives Apu the idea to turn the Kwik-E-Mart into a freak-show to profit off his frozen dead guy, complete with a Can of Mystery, and offensive baseball cap, and Grandpa explaining the history of Frostilicus.
Since she’s gotten no good news about her suffering intelligence, Lisa finally decides to just give up, and become a real Simpson like Homer and Bart. So she goes downstairs and watches the wonderful Fox program “When Buildings Collapse.” And after an hour of buildings falling down Lisa is actually enjoying herself, and is really thinking about being dumb like her family. That is until she sees Bart and Homer eating warm candy bars that they keep in the couch cushions. She temporarily thinks about it, but has an insane fantasy about her terrible life as a dumb fat lady living in a trailer with a brood of children and Ralph as her husband. Which is a bridge too far, and causes Lisa to run away after calling Homer dumb.
So Lisa is getting dumb, and doesn’t want to give up and be like Bart and Homer even though it’s inevitable. Which means there’s only one option left. She’s going to go give her brain one last hurrah. She heads out into the city and looks at some fake art at the museum and goes to the Jazz Hole to hear some music. We then briefly check in on the B-plot to wrap it up, and see that the Rich Texan is there to buy Jasper, only to reveal that he’s defrosted. Jasper assumes he’s in the far future, and wanders off, leaving Apu and Sanjay with no other option than to turn the Kwik-E-Mart into some sort of nude dance club.
Meanwhile, Lisa is talking with the violinist she saw at the Jazz Hole about the importance of intelligence, and she gets a bright idea. She runs over to the local news station and finds out that you can come on air for an “editorial reply,” and after lying that she’s deeply against a statute that would give free bus fare to war widows, she sneaks on for her secrete agenda. She gets on TV and then gives an impassioned speech about how you shouldn’t take your brain for granted, and should read lots of books. And back at the Simpson house, the family is worried about her, not really understanding what she’s doing. That is until Grandpa explains that he told Lisa she was going to get dumb. So Homer decides to prove her wrong, gets some beer, his conversation hat, and his address book and starts making calls.
The next morning Lisa is woken up by Marge, who tells her that Homer has a big surprise for her. She opens her window and finds their front yard filled with Simpsons for an impromptu family reunion. Homer has called every Simpson in the area and asked them to come out and show Lisa that they aren’t all failures. Which is something he probably should have researched, because it quickly becomes evident that all the Simpsons are moronic failures. Well, all the men. He ends up asking some of the women, and it turns out they’re all successes. There’s a doctor, an architect, an environmental lawyer, and a trundle bed saleswoman. Turns out that “Simpson Gene” is on the Y chromosome, and only men are effected. So Lisa is safe! Bart however will be a spectacular failure, but he seems pretty cool with it. And the episode ends with Lisa able to finally figure out that brain teaser, and then gives a very Simpson-esque “Woo Hoo!” to celebrate.
I really love this episode. I’ve quickly discovered during this project that I’m a serious mark when it comes to these emotional Lisa Episodes, and I really adore this idea that Lisa is going to become a better more successful person than the rest of her family in the future, while owing it all to them. And this is a really great example of that type of episode. Especially because those ones often have Homer doing something stupid, Lisa rebelling against it, Home getting mad at her, and then them reconciling. That doesn’t really happen here. Homer is pretty supportive no matter what in this one, and is just trying to help her. Which is super adorable. We don’t really have Homer being petty and mad that she’s trying to be better than him in this episode. He’s psyched when she wants to watch stupid Fox shows, and he’s excited to show her that she actually can have an intelligent future. The whole episode really ends up just solidifying the idea that while Lisa may leave the family, and become a bigger and better person, it’s all because of her family. She’s going to overcome a lot, but it’s not like the family is actually holding her back. She’s not succeeding in spite of being a Simpson, she succeeding because she’s a Simpson. And man do I love that last little bit. Seeing Lisa getting her intelligence “back” and then celebrating by using a very typical Homer noise is just great. Because she’s still a Simpson.
Take Away: Don’t forget your roots. Even if you think your family is holding you back, it’s just building your character. And frozen corpses are a profitable business venture. Just ask Trygve Bauge.
“Lisa the Simpson” was written by Ned Goldreyer and directed by Suside Dietter, 1998.