Hey everybody, are you ready for some hot spelling bee action? And a goddamn George Plimpton cameo? Let’s get going!
Our episode starts off with Bart sitting around watching some Elvira knock-off host a delightful film where Frankenstein and the Mummy play the Harlem Globetrotters at basketball. It looks like a fun movie, and features a cameo from Ray Romano, but we of course have to leave that insanity to check out a commercial for the Kwik-E-Mart to establish that it’s back to school time. Oh, and I love that a) Apu have the money to advertise on TV, and b) he’s in the ad, and not like, a national spokesperson. Oh, and we also learn that there’s some new sandwich at Krusty Burger called the Rib-Wich, and Homer’s psyched.
Anyway, we cut straight over to the school on the first day, with all the students in the auditorium for an opening assembly. Skinner for some reason thinks that the best way to christen this new school year is to have a school-wide spelling bee, so that’s what they do. We get to see some gags, like Bart get ridiculed for saying “I am pee,” and Milhouse choking on the word choke.
And, obviously, Lisa is the winner of the spelling bee, is now the best speller in the school, and gets the opportunity to represent the school in a state-wide spelling bee that’s coming up. So Lisa goes home and tells her parents about her accomplishment, and tells them that if she wins State she can participate in the Spell-Lympics. And they’re really impressed. Well, Marge is, Homer’s more focused on going to go get one of those disgusting sandwiches.
So Homer leaves, heads to Krusty Burger, and orders a Rib-Which, and tucks in. And he’s hooked. They’re crazy addictive, filled with chemicals, and make him actively fatter, but they apparently taste great, so Homer eats like ten of them in one go. He’s so addicted that when Lisa easily wins the State competition he suggests that they all go out to eat some of the terrible sandwiches. Sadly though, it was a limited-time thing, and the Rib-Wich is now gone, leaving Homer distraught. Well, that is until he finds that they’re selling the Rib-Wich in different markets, and that there’s a clan of insane people who travel around the country to eat it. So obviously Homer joins them.
But that’s not really important yet, so let’s focus on the upcoming Spell-Lympics, which everyone is moderately excited about. Kent Brockman even does a report on it, showing what a slow news day it is. Well, until he gets an update that Paris has been destroyed. But that’s not a big deal. What is important is Lisa’s training, because she’s running around town, spelling things for people, and just generally seeing the whole town stand behind her for the national competition.
So the Simpsons head to Calgary for the Spell-Lympics and enter the massive arena that it’s held at, along with the host, George Plimpton. Which is pretty awesome. And the kids begin spelling, and slowly they get picked off, with Lisa remaining. Oh, and some little boy named Alex that everyone clearly thinks is adorable and loveable. But besides him, Lisa is doing great and she makes it down to the final three.
Unfortunately, even though there’s only going to be one more day, Homer tells her he’s going to bail and got to San Francisco to eat one of those terrible sandwiches. Lisa’s pretty crushed, but it’s about to get worse, because she gets asked by George Plimpton to come talk with him. When they’re in his office Plimpton tells Lisa that people aren’t interested in spelling bees anymore, and they need a charismatic winner. He wants Lisa to take a dive, let Alex work, and she’ll get a full-ride scholarship to any of the Seven Sisters colleges.
Lisa’s obviously not down with this, and acts disgusted, but that night she starts to have some doubts. She has a crazy stress dream about taking the Seven Sisters deal, and when she wakes up she has a heart-to-heart with Marge about affording college, and things look kind of bleak. But she still wants to stick with her morals, and gets ready for her big championship match.
Meanwhile, Homer has made it to San Francisco and is waiting with all the other fat hippies for their gross meal. But as they’re waiting Krusty shows up in a limo to tell them that the horrible insect that they make the Rib-Wich out of has gone extinct, and they’re cancelling the product. He has one last Rib-Wich and tosses it into the air. Homer is able to grab it, but all the other lunatics offer him ridiculous things to trade. And while talking with them Homer realizes that he should go be with Lisa, and takes some guys sports car to drive to Calgary.
Back at the Spell-Lympics though, it’s down to Lisa and the Alex kid. The crowd clearly is rooting for him, and George Plimpton is actively trying to sabotage Lisa, but she’s trying her best. But it’s getting hard, and she starts to consider taking a dive. That is until Homer shows up, and she decides to give it a shot, and proudly spells her word. Incorrectly. She’s lost, and she didn’t take a dive. Alex gets the prize, she doesn’t get the bribe, and everyone heads home, a little disappointed. That is until they get home and find that the whole town is waiting for them, because by getting second-place Lisa is now the biggest winner Springfield has ever had, and they’re still proud of her.
I liked this episode quite a bit. I’ve become a real sucker for Lisa episodes, and this was a really fun and interesting one. So often we get Lisa episodes that revolve around her and Homer having some sort of ideological difference and argument, but this is one of the less common ones where Lisa is having some sort of moral quandary. That doesn’t really come out until Plimpton asks her to make a dive, but it’s a great concept that really worked well for this episode. I love that Lisa is so principled at such a young age, even though it’s a tempting offer. They don’t make Lisa this perfect person, who sticks by her guns and doesn’t even think about the offer, she definitely thinks about it and they make it seems like if Homer hadn’t shown up to give her confidence she would have taken a dive. But she didn’t, because she’s a strong person. The end of the episode may seem a little odd, but it’s like the first Rocky film. She didn’t technically win, but she won the moral victory, and that’s good enough for her.
Take Away: Stick to your principles, because even if you get a tempting offer to compromise them, it won’t feel right. Don’t eat McRibs.
“I’m Spelling as Fast as I Can” was written by Kevin Curran and directed by Nancy Kruse, 2003.
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons