160. Lisa’s Date With Density

(originally aired December 15, 1996)
This is one of those classic episodes that end up lost in the shuffle; in a lineup of maniacal super villain bosses and X-Files cameos, a simple childhood romance story doesn’t seem as spectacular. But as we’ve seen from this series, these episodes can be spectacular, with lots of great character moments and an intriguing story. “Density” isn’t terrible, but feels somewhat innocuous and by-the-numbers, something this show would normally mock. We begin by setting up Nelson as the rebel-without-a-cause bad boy and Lisa filled with perplexment over developing a crush on him. She confides her feelings with Milhouse, who is understandably discouraged that Lisa’s affections lie elsewhere. Nelson remains ambivalent over Lisa’s interests and intentions to make him a better person, while his fellow bullies think that he’s gone soft on them and mock him incessantly for it. Then Nelson of course teams back up with the bullies and of course Lisa finds out and is disappointed and moves on, much to Milhouse’s constrained glee… of course.

This show has run through its fair share of formulaic plot lines, some of them being the most memorable of the series, but always with some new twist or subversion, or at least a fresh look at it. This good-girl-bad-boy story is pretty tread territory, and played completely straight, so we just sort of sit there and watch as the plot points we expect come and go until the episode ends. It’s not a good thing, but not so much a bad thing either. Ultimately the episode ends up kind of bland, but with nothing too grossly offensive (or in this case inoffensive) to make me want to turn it off. The Skinner/Chalmers stuff at the beginning is pretty good, and the petty theft of the Honda ‘H’ off Chalmers’ 1979 Accord is a wonderfully lame act illustrating Nelson’s thoughtless hooliganism. The interactions between Lisa and Nelson at the start of their “relationship” is kinda cute; Yeardley Smith gives a great performance, slightly nervous and pensive, but always adorable, and always feels like Lisa. Though equally as cliche in concept as the dogged best friend with a crush, Milhouse is fantastic in this episode, riding the line of pitiful and amiably pathetic (“When she sees you’ll do anything she says, she’s bound to respect you.”) The best scene in this show involves a tragic miscommunication when he delivers a note from Lisa to Nelson, resulting in him being sent to the emergency room.

There’s a B-story that doesn’t take up much time, and doesn’t amount to much, but certainly worth noting. Homer acquires an auto-dialing machine during a police bust, utilizing it to play a recorded message to every phone number in time asking to send him one dollar. He posits it to be a fool-proof scheme to put him on easy street. As silly as the plot sounds, it certainly was more interesting than the main story, with Homer’s funny message and great bits from Professor Frink and Chief Wiggum. However, a part of me does feel like stuff like this is a looming harbinger for things to come. Homer not going to work in exchange of a crazy scheme? We’d see plenty more of that in the future, with more excruciating results. But for the time being, I didn’t mind, and was amused by Homer’s brief stint as “Happy Dude” (later “Sorry Dude.”) This entire episode feels very ineffective on the whole, but is not without its smaller emotional moments and jokes to keep you engaged just enough.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Always find myself mixing up “Density” with “Destiny” in the title. I feel like George McFly.
– Homer tries to take advantage of the self-serve donut station at the Kwik-E-Mart, but Apu is not so easy to fool (“A Mounds bar is not a sprinkle.  A twizzler is not a sprinkle.  A Jolly Rancher is not a sprinkle, sir.  Perhaps in Shangri-La they are, but not in here.”)
– Never has a name seemed more apt than Jimmy the Scumbag. You look at him, and think, “Man, that guy seems like a real scumbag.”
– Love the ridiculousness of Willie prying each locker open with a crowbar, effectively destroying them all, rather than just having the students open them.
– Lisa giggles at Nelson’s antics outside, much to Mr. Largo’s chagrin (“Miss Simpson?  Do you find something funny about the word tromboner?”) This leads to the class taunting “Lisa likes Nelson!” which alters as Milhouse and Janey get involved. Mr. Largo is fed up (“Uter likes Milhouse!” “Nobody likes Milhouse!”)
– Nice meta reference when Lisa gets detention writing on the chalkboard; rubbing her sore wrist, she wonders how Bart does it every week.
– Great performance by Castellaneta as Willie catching the football… or rather, bee hive.
– Great animation of Milhouse choking on its milk, causing the carton to explode when Lisa confesses her crush to him.
– I like that, for some reason, Frink installed robotic wheels onto the auto dialer. And how Homer just chases after his runaway machine, completely non-plussed by the fact that it’s now mobile.
– Classic bit where Lisa questions Nelson’s “Nuke the Whales” poster (“You don’t really believe that, do you?” “I dunno. Gotta nuke somethin’.”) Also a bumper sticker on the wall reads “Bomb the Arabs and Take Their Oil.” Foreshadowing?
– Great scene of Marge and Lisa in the car as they posit about their respective men (“Most women will tell you that you’re a fool to think you can change a  man, but those women are quitters.”) Lisa proceeds to patronize her mother when she talks about how much Homer has improved thanks to her molding.
– I do like how both parties have their own views on the kiss: Lisa thinks she’s finally touched Nelson’s soul, while Nelson just wanted her to shut her gob.
– Nice assorted name-calling between the kids: Lisa calls the other bullies a bunch of “crumb-bums,” and one of them chides Nelson as a “charlatan” as they walk away.
– The finale of the auto-dialer plot is pretty great, starting by the dumb mislead where we think Wiggum is shooting Nelson… but it’s actually just the machine. He then informs Homer that he should bring it in as evidence, otherwise he gets off scot-free. We also get an acknowledgement of the absurdity that Wiggum, as chief of police, responds to each and every police call in the town. Lou and Eddie don’t seem too grateful for that, for obvious reasons.
– I think this episode initiated the phrase “smell you later.” So at least we have it to thank for that. And with that… smell you later.

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6 responses to “160. Lisa’s Date With Density

  1. This is one of those Season 8 episodes where Bill and Josh are so focused on making the characters feel and act like real people that they occasionally forget to make them funny. It happens again in “My Sister, My Sitter”, albeit to a much greater degree than here. Actually, to a degree, most of the Lisa episodes this season are light on laughs (“The Old Man and the Lisa” being an exception, though that’s mostly because it’s got Burns in the spotlight too).

  2. Joey Joe Joe Shabadoo

    The scene where Milhouse passes the note up to Nelson is amazing –

    The little hand wave/finger wiggle by Milhouse after Nelson reads the note – which directly transitions into Milhouse being stretchered out of school.

    A top five laugh-out-loud moment.

  3. Minor correction: this episode did NOT initiate the expression “smell you later.” I refer you to the opening theme of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, where Will Smith says he yelled to the cabbie “Yo homes smell ya later!”

  4. Anyone else miss the image of Homer wearing his half-moon specs?? I sure do.

    Also, remember the times Bart was afraid of Nelson the Bully, rather than the two seeing each other as equals, and shall i say, friends?

  5. I really don’t think this plot is played straight; i mean, did we watch the same episode? Nelson is kind only in one scene, the moment of the kiss, which is believable even for him; but the love story ends perfectly with a twist: Lisa understands Nelson can’t change, and that he will always be just a bad apple after all. Love doesn’t solve all the problems, and not everybody are goodhearted, people. Wonderful ending to me.

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