(originally aired December 3, 1992)
The family history of the Simpsons is so rich you could make a whole other show out of the different eras of their lives. I’d watch a show featuring high school Homer and Marge, and I’d watch another involving the misadventures of toddler Bart. These flashback shows, as I’ve mentioned, provide great insight on the relationship and meaning behind the characters as we know them now, but are also wholly entertaining in and of themselves. “Lisa’s First Word” nips at the heels of “I Married Marge” in terms of its sweetness, where in place of Homer’s stumbling but earnest attempts of affection we have a young Bart and even younger Lisa. The li’l designs of the two Simpson children are so goddamn adorable that it’s almost unbearable. Like I said, I could watch 2-year-old Bart doing his thing all day, and I’d be captivated.
The title is a half-lie, as the wrap-around is about the family trying to coax Maggie to speak her first word, the flashback is the lengthy story of Lisa’s. Set about two years after our last flashback, we see Homer, Marge and little Bart living on the East side of Springfield, which resembles an almost 1940s type of New York. Their neighborhood, Marge’s home outfit, their crummy apartment, all of it seems so perfect and sets the mood for the episode. A lot of time is given to show what a little hellion young Bart is, so when Marge announces she’s pregnant again, I’m surprised Homer’s reaction isn’t one of pure shock. The two move out of their apartment and into their trademark house, which gives us explanation of how they stuck Grampa in the retirement home, and also Homer’s first encounter with Flanders (followed closely by first item permanently borrowed from his neighbor-eeno). The big day comes, and Lisa Simpson is born, much to the chagrin of Bart that from now on, it won’t all be about him. The nerve.
On top of everything else going on, we have plenty of classic scenes and bits, like Bart’s terrifying clown bed (which considering Homer made it is shockingly well constructed), the various places Homer and Marge house hunt, and Grandma Flanders (“Hello Joe!”) There’s also a small runner of Krusty’s backfiring promotion for his restaurant involving the 1984 Olympics (“Soviet boycott. U.S. unopposed in most events. How does this affect our giveaway?”) But what works best is the build-up toward our big finale, Maggie’s first word. The groundwork is set from the start, where we see little Bart’s complete inability to call his father “Dad,” pretty much just to aggravate Homer, even at such a young age. Later when Lisa finally speaks, she doesn’t call Homer “Dad” either, even though she can comprehend “David Hasselhoff.” So, we get our sweet ending where Maggie, alone in her crib, utters, “Daddy.” And she sounds an awful lot like Elizabeth Taylor. Shame Homer missed it.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Brilliant sequence at the start where Lisa uses one of her many platitudes involving Maggie speaking (“Remember, it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.”) Homer’s brain is in a panic (“What does that mean? Better say something or they’ll think you’re stupid.”) He retorts, “Takes one to know one!” His brain is alleviated (“Swish!”)
– The quick flashback of Bart’s first word is pretty dirty; I love the half-lidded expression of baby Bart sucking on a bottle as he nonchalantly opens his parent’s bedroom door.
– Always love that little Brooklyn kid: “Hey, youse guys wanna play stickball?”
– When Marge tells Homer there’s going to be twice as much love in the house from now on, his immediate response just kills me: “We’re going to start doing it in the morning?!”
– Great disturbing element of Homer’s past involving his cousin Frank, who slept in his parents’ bed until he was 21: “He became Francine back in ’76. Then he joined that cult. I think her name is Mother Shabubu now.”
– Third time’s the charm for Captain McAllister, who has a great small scene.
– Little Bart banging pots and pans, aggravating a migraine-pained Marge is a wonderfully real scene.
– Classic Homer line: “It’s not easy to juggle a pregnant wife and a troubled child, but somehow I managed to fit in eight hours of TV a day.”
– I like the bits we see of the Olympics, like the announcers uncaringly commenting on drowning contestants who come from countries without swimming pools (the Keith Jackson-type announcer’s great line, “Boo hoo, you’re breaking my heart!”)
– Homer is always a man of simple pleasures; “Wow. A baby and a free burger. Could this be the best day of my life?” A full-hour episode of “Mama’s Family” is coming on TV confirms it.
– Great small stuff with Rod and Todd, like the “Good Samaritan” game and “Iron helps us play!”
– Marge in rocking chair with little Lisa, light pouring into the nursery, is a beautiful shot.
– I love the broken down and bitter Krusty, after having lost millions, in his televised message: “You people are pigs! I, personally, am going to spit in every fiftieth burger!” Homer comments, “I like those odds!”
– The montage of Bart continuously trying to get rid of Lisa is great, with so much cuteness from Lisa (Yeardley Smith does some great baby cooing). I particularly love after Bart cuts off her hair, when she crawls over to him in time out with a little teddy bear beanie and pajamas… so… freaking… adorable.
– There’s a small joke at the end I love, when we flash forward from little Bart and Lisa hugging to modern day Bart and Lisa fighting over sitting on a spot on the rug. Lisa uses the classic “I don’t see your name on it!” retort, while Bart asserts it’s there, written in bold black marker. Marge scolds him for writing on the rug. It’s a great gag, but I also love that it’s there at the very end. We have our joke serving the set-up for Homer to carry Maggie upstairs (“The sooner kids talk, the sooner they talk back. I hope you never say a word.”) Bart and Lisa bickering should be enough, but the writers cared to put in one more joke, just because they could. They didn’t have to, but that’s what’s great about these classic shows, it’s about how many gags they can put into 22 minutes, and I appreciate their efforts so so much.