170. My Sister, My Sitter

(originally aired March 2, 1997)
Here’s a smaller character story that sort of spirals out of control, but not in an entirely bad way. It almost feels like a bizarre character examination of Lisa, and her attempts to be viewed as mature by any means necessary. There’s some silliness along the way, but the episode is mostly successful. The first pill to swallow is our general premise: Lisa becomes the town’s foremost dependable babysitter. As competent and enlightened as the girl is, she’s still only eight years old, and looking after kids her age or younger (and older; Rod Flanders’ at least Bart’s age). Aren’t there laws in place that children under a certain age cannot be left home alone? Maybe this is a hush hush operation… But in any case, it’s just something that bugged me throughout the whole show, though a great Marge line almost excuses it (“Parents need to be sure their sitter can handle anything that might happen, that’s why they hire teenagers”) One weekend, Homer and Marge go out to the grand opening of a new seaside shopping promenade, leaving Lisa in charge of Bart. And Maggie. Would Marge really feel comfortable with her eight-year-old looking after her infant child? …alright, I gotta let this issue go.

Putting that problem aside, I love all the second act stuff, with Bart engaged in full bratty brother mode, doing all he can to make Lisa’s night a living hell. I read some people thought his behavior to be cruel and malicious, but I think they’re off base. They also probably don’t have siblings. Small scenes speak great volumes; “go to bread” is a wonderful childish move, and something I quote every now and again. All the people Bart calls over are great, from a disgruntled Krusty (“I ain’t leaving ’till I get paid! I get five hundred just for ‘Hey hey'”) to EMTs sent to perform an emergency sisterectomy. But horseplay leads to tears when Bart accidentally falls down the stairs and gets a dislocated shoulder. In spite of his sister, he attempts to aggravate his injuries, but ends up knocking himself unconscious. Lisa is in a panic; not wanting to expose her faux-pas on the job to respected client Dr. Hibbert, she must make a long trek to the bad part of town to Dr. Nick’s clinic, hauling Bart in a wheelbarrow and a hyperactive Maggie in a pet carrier.

So the last act is all about Lisa’s descent further into madness over getting everything smoothed out before her parents get home. Her dream featuring Dr. Hibbert is fantastic and well-directed, and also quite quotable for some reason (“Dislocated shoulder… bump on the noggin… my diagnosis… bad babysitting!!“) It’s interesting to see how low Lisa will stoop to try to retain her reputation; as outlandish as it gets at the finale, it still feels true to character, and also is quite tongue in cheek when her worst dreams become a reality. There’s a lot of other great isolated scenes in the show: babysitting the Flanders boys, who survive a nasty moth attack, Maggie going nuts after being fed a glut of coffee ice cream, and always nice to see Homer and Marge gussied up for a night on the town. Despite my issues with the general premise, this episode has a lot of stuff going for it; it has enough nice single scenes and hilarious moments to keep it firmly in my good graces.

Tidbits and Quotes
- Lisa gets Reverend Lovejoy to make an announcement about her babysitting service at mass, with a one dollar discount for anyone who can name the topic of the day’s sermon. Total silence. Lovejoy reveals the topic was love. Man, not even Ned got it.
– Not a fan of Homer’s incredibly callous attitude toward Ned’s story about his wife being held hostage. But contradicting that, I love that when Ned asks for Homer’s permission for Lisa to babysit, despite her eagerly standing there, he remarks, “I’ll have to ask her,” and slams the door.
– Love the Flanders’ kids not being able to use wicked dice, and asking Lisa to tell them a bedtime story about robots. Really sweet. Ned is impressed (“Sleeping quietly after a bug attack! And Todd’s as dry as a bone!”)
– Nice bit where Wiggum is disappointed he’s mixed up Bob Seger with Bob Sagat. And classic Ralph line: “I can dress myself!”
– Homer’s logic regarding his rented tuxedo is pretty sound, relating it to a rent-a-car (“Get all the mileage you can, then ball it up and cram it through the mail slot.”)
– Homer drives right through the crowds at the waterfront. Marge considers they should park, given the mayor is yelling at them. Quimby’s muted line from outside the car, “Stop, you idiot!” makes me laugh every time.
– The different stores at the promenade are great: “Malaria Zone,” “Just Rainsticks,” “Much Ado About Muffins,” like the Leftorium, large extremely niche stores that I have no clue how they stay in business. Also great parody of Planet Hollywood in Planet Hype, with Rainier Wolfcastle at the opening (“It’s true! The entire menu was personally approved by my secretary.”) Moe’s also has a set-up at the boardwalk, but it’s actually just an extremely large ramshackle tunnel to the opening of his actual location (“Hey, this isn’t faux dive. This is a dive.” “You’re a long way from home, yuppie boy. I’ll start a tab.”)
– Great bit where Bart goes limp and Lisa must drag him around. Bart insists he’s opting for non-violent resistance, and Lisa finds it ridiculous to compare himself to Gandhi. Bart’s response, of course, is, “Who?”
– Love the second act break when Krusty comes back in the house, notices Bart unconscious, then sheepishly leaves.
– Somewhat questionable that Lisa would entrust Dr. Nick, but a) she’s a bit desperate, and b) even though she guided her a bit, the man did successfully perform bypass surgery on her father, so he’s not completely incompetent.
– Dr. Nick’s waiting room is packed. At the front, Snake spins a cockamamie story about falling onto a bullet, but there’s no judgement at this firm (“You don’t have to make up stories here. Save that for court!”) It’s much too crowded for Lisa; there’s even a wheelbarrow line she must get into, right behind a spent Comic Book Guy (“Ohhh, loneliness and cheeseburgers are a dangerous mix.”) There’s also a very disturbing implication with a stiffly standing up Smithers, contritely saying he needs a mysterious something taken care of. Like he’s got a phallic instrument shoved up his ass? That’s rather raw…
– Love the stupid fake out with Wiggum’s flashlight slowly approaching Bart… and then… “Just as I thought! It’s a Yard King! That is a quality barrow. Well, I gotta run.”
– Lisa’s exposure at the end is even more preposterous than any of her nightmares, which is kind of the point. I especially love Sideshow Mel’s theatrical narration (“And, as a grim finale, she intends to drown that poor caged baby!”) and of course Helen Lovejoy (“And she’s on drugs!!”) Homer will have none of it (“Give me the drugs, Lisa.”)
– The ending of Springfield’s parents ultimately being unfazed by the whole incident is an amusing capper (“Didn’t you hear I almost killed my brother?” “You did? Just a minute. ………what time can you come over?”)

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6 responses to “170. My Sister, My Sitter

  1. 1. Great work on the blog, we are teetering on the precipice of the show’s quality here and I’m looking forward to the freefall.

    2. I think your use of “nonplussed” was kind of ambiguous when talking about Bart’s response to Sideshow Bob’s reappearance, and it’s actually even more ambiguous here.

    http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/nonplussed.html

    I just want to make sure

    • Well thank you, Professor Brainiac. I’ve been using that term in error for years, it seems. I’ve adjusted accordingly, thanks for bringing this to my attention.

      • “In episode 2F09, when Itchy plays Scratchy’s skeleton like a xylophone, he strikes the same rib twice in succession, yet he produces two clearly different tones.”

        That’s what I sound like! Really at this point I think both definitions are de facto cromulent, but the more you know etc.

  2. When I became a die-hard Simpsons fanatic in 2001, I started taping the show, syndicated reruns and all. And this was the very first episode I ever recorded. Looking back on it now, I wish I’d started my collection with a better one.

    This is one of those down-to-earthy Oakley and Weinstein episodes that sacrifices broad gags for a lot of quieter character-based stuff. There are plenty of good episodes in that vein (I always point to O&W’s first episode, “Home Sweet Homediddily-dum-doodily”, as the perfect example of a realistic, non-crazy episode that still gets humongous laughs out of me), but this was the point in the series where they started getting a little too subtle. The laughs in this episode are mostly tiny chuckles, and it’s hard for me to get excited about this one.

  3. I actually like this episode, though it’s not especially funny. It’s not quite as good as “Bart Sells His Soul,” but I think of them in the same vein.

  4. I like the double fake-out when the real Dr. Hibbert examines Bart (“Dislocated shoulder… bump on the noggin… my diagnosis… a rather nasty fall… AS A RESULT OF BAD BABYSITTING!!“)

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