144. Lisa the Iconoclast

(originally aired February 18, 1996)
Lisa episodes always tend to be more understated; not bombastic as shows starring Homer and Bart, but more introspective, or about a broader topic. In this show Lisa inadvertently uncovers a horrible truth regarding the town’s beloved founder Jebediah Springfield, that he was actually a murderous pirate who had nothing but contempt towards the town. This occurs during preparation for the town’s bicentennial celebration, and if one thing unites the citizens of Springfield, it’s their mutual love and respect for their town founder. Among those excited is Homer, who manages to horn his way into the position of town crier, who he admittedly is quite good at (Bart comments, “You’re a big fat loudmouth and you can walk when you have to.”) Particularly sweet in this show is that Homer believes in Lisa’s story (remarking she’s usually right about everything), and vehemently assists and vouches for her in her quest to expose the truth.

Lisa finds herself butting heads with the curator of the Springfield Historical Society (where she found Jebediah’s confession stuffed in his old fife) Hollis Hurlbut, voiced by Donald Sutherland, a wonderfully subtle performance. Hollis assures Lisa the note is a forgery, even with her logical evidence to back it up. Any attempts Lisa makes to spread the truth are met with great scorn; from the school to Moe’s Tavern, no one will bear to hear anything derogatory about Jebediah Springfield. Lisa’s pursuits can only be calmed upon exhuming the founder’s corpse, to see if he bears a silver tongue (his actual one apparently bitten off during a grog house fight). When no tongue is found in the coffin, Lisa is discouraged, but soon unravels the mystery, finding that Hurlbut is attempting to cover up the truth, unable to admit he had spent years devoting his life to a fraud. Unable to cope, he swiped the silver tongue quickly, hoping the controversy would fade. But in the end, Lisa finds she just can’t rain on the town’s parade and keeps the facts to herself.

Like many Lisa shows, this one doesn’t go for the huge laughs; it’s more of the content and feelings of the characters that keep it going. Jebediah Springfield’s true past is reminiscent of many other famous historical figures whose pasts may not be as illustrious as we are led to believe. However, the ending is spot on: regardless if the man was the real deal, the legend certainly is; it brought out the best of the entire town, and that makes the myth just as real as anything. As I said, I love that Homer teams up with Lisa in this, and also that both end up in dour positions as a result: Lisa seemingly being proven wrong, and Homer being stripped of his town crier position as a result of making a fuss. The best moment of the show is when Lisa apologizes to her father, who accepts, and Homer attempts to feign a smile until he deflates into a mope. He wants to keep his spirits up for his daughter, but can’t quite bring himself to it. But of course things are a-OK at the end, as father and daughter lead the parade in grandiose fashion, a sweet end to an interesting show.

Tidbits and Quotes
The beginning film strip of young Jebediah Springfield (starring a young Troy McClure) is pretty shoddily made, with stage hands and boom mics in shots, and a poorly disguised stunt double for McClure when he’s taming the buffalo.
– ‘Embiggen’ and ‘cromulent’ have entered my personal lexicon. They may even be real words at this point. The former certainly sounds like one. Embiggen (verb): To make bigger.
– I believe our first mention of Kearney being an especially old fourth grader, who, since he can recall Watergate, must be at least twenty-five years old. Later shows would reveal he has a young son, Kearney, Jr.
– I love the uselessness of the essay contest, that the top eighteen essays will be put on file at the library, to rot away unread.
– I really love Jebediah’s actual name Hans Sprungfeld. It’s just very silly.
– Wonderful awkwardness between Lisa and Hollis after she discovered the confession. The “You have arthritis?” line was apparently an ad-lib from Sutherland, and Lisa’s quieted “No…” is adorable.
– Love the title of Lisa’s essay, “Jebediah Springfield: Super Fraud.” She certainly doesn’t sugar coat, I can give her that.
– Nice quick bit with Comic Book Guy at the copy store, paranoid Homer will rip off his unpublished screenplay. Homer is just waiting for Lisa, but makes a mental note: “Steal his idea.”
– Brilliant bit when Quimby warns Lisa about the corporations sponsoring their bicentennial. Lisa rebuts that they’re sponsoring a murderous pirate, to which one man responds indignantly, “A pirate? Well, that’s hardly the image we want for Long John Silver’s!” The animation of their quick exit is pretty funny too.
– I would think Jebediah’s skeleton, not to mention his clothes, would be mostly deteriorated, but I guess it’s worth it to have Wiggum desecrate a corpse for a little ventriloquism act.
– Love the pathetic sight of Homer shaking an alarm clock when his town crier bell is taken, almost similar to him singing the blimp song with a pickle in “Lisa the Beauty Queen.”
– The flashback of Hans fighting George Washington is pretty epic, and pretty stupid. But even that is handled with care, and lays in a subtle clue about the end. We see Hans smash against the portrait and knock it to the ground, which must have damaged it slightly, at least enough to Hans to catch part of it on his boot and rip it, which he later used to write his confession on. Lisa completes the puzzle, and exposes Hollis, who stupidly has displayed the stolen silver tongue out in the open in one of the dioramas.
– Hilarious bit where Quimby has hired a sniper to take out an eight-year-old girl, who still fires a shot after Lisa doesn’t expose the truth as she walks away.

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5 responses to “144. Lisa the Iconoclast

  1. Fun fact: I always visualized Professor Lupin from Harry Potter as the curator in this episode. I’ve never really internalized his appearance from the movie versions, so when I re-read the books, I still picture him as a Simpsons character, alongside characters who are real humans in my mind.

  2. I have 2 questions. One. Where’s the fife? Two. Gimme the fife!

  3. “And the half-wits of this town will NEVER LEARN THE TRUTH!!!” HAHAHAHAHA!!! HAHAHAHAHA-” “-ha ha ha ha ha… ”

    LOVE that gag.

  4. I’ve always loved:

    “Can’t we have one meeting that doesn’t end with us digging up a corpse?”

  5. This is kind of an underrated episode. It’s not frequently listed amongst the greats, but it has a good plot and the curator is so lame he’s hilarious (“My microwave johnny cakes are ready.”). And who doesn’t love Homer’s over-zealous attitude as the town crier?

    More importantly, it touches on an important, timeless theme that was also raised in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance”: Which is more important, the legend, or the truth?

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