181. Lisa’s Sax

(originally aired October 19, 1997)
Flashbacks always seem to be a slam dunk for this show; delving back into the past of our favorite family sheds light on the formation of their characters and how they came to be. Also seeing them younger is really cute, especially the case with the Simpson children. When Lisa’s saxophone is accidentally destroyed, Homer and Marge spin the tale of how she came to get the instrument. It’s a story that quickly gets usurped by another, waxing nostalgic about five-year-old Bart’s early school days. We see that li’l Bart was actually pretty excited about starting school before he got there, before the institute quickly squashed any hope and spirit he had. It actually is kind of a tragic story; Bart appears to be trying hard and actively participating, his mind is still developing, all kids minds develop at different rates. But the bitch teacher belittles this poor child at every turn instead of encourage him. We see how words can be emotionally damaging to a boy like Bart, how it can turn him off personal betterment forever. Poor Bart…

Even when she wasn’t yet a middle child, Lisa was getting overlooked, until school psychiatrist J. Loren Pryor notices her exceptional observation and critical thinking skills, and informs her parents that she is a gifted child. I’ve got to say, baby Lisa in “Lisa’s First Word” was pretty damn cute, but three-year-old Lisa is absolutely adorable; Yeardley Smith picks her voice up a bit and gives a great performance (especially love how she mimics her father’s enthusiastic “Wave of the future!”) Of course encouraging a gift comes with a high price tag for the local private school (Miss Tillingham’s School for Snotty Girls and Mama’s Boys), which the Simpsons can’t afford. Another possible option is to get her an instrument to fuel her creative brain, but money is pretty tight for something like that too. At King Toot’s, Lisa finds herself drawn to her soon to be beloved saxamaphone, but seeing its price, Homer must make a choice. He’s been sweating like a pig during the recent heat wave and is in dire need of an air conditioner. Will be splurge on that, or Lisa’s sax? Well what do you think?

I’ll say my only minor complaint about this episode is that these flashback shows are getting a tad redundant. “I Married Marge” and “And Maggie Makes Three” are both episodes ultimately depicting how Homer sacrifices his personal happiness and dreams for the benefit of his family. This is basically the same deal; the emotional impact is still there, but the third time around isn’t quite as effective. But it’s kind of a theme that exists in the series proper as well: Homer is a man driven by his own selfish impulses, but time and time again he must manage to put them aside for the sake of those he loves most. So, again, a really minor issue with this great episode. The resolution to Bart’s story alleviates some of the sadness, where he finds his niche as a class clown and utters his first immortal catchphrase, “Eat my shorts.” Homer is out yet another air conditioner to pay for a new saxophone for Lisa, giving us a nice jazz tune to go out on amidst clips of her jamming in past episodes. It’s a nice little show, another look into the forgotten years of the Simpson family.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Before Family Guy would come and shit all over it in their theme every week, All in the Family gets the Simpson treatment, with Homer and Marge singing their version of “Those Were the Days,” (“Disco Duck and Fleetwood Mac/Coming out of my eight track/Michael Jackson still was black/Those were the days!”)
– Nice slab on the WB (“We’re proud to present on the WB, another bad show that no one will see!”) That network never really hit its stride… and now it’s dead. But how could it with such fine programming as the Krusty the Klown Story, starring Fyvush Finkel? We learn he was apparently married to Mia Farrow at one point (“Chan Ho, your mother Mia and I are getting a divorce.” “Chan Ho is over there. I am Chin Ho.” “Whoever you are! Just pass it along, kid!”) Watching this, Homer comments, “What a bad father!” As if on cue, Maggie walks by carrying a power drill. Also love the callback later where to cheer Lisa up, Homer offers to destroy something Maggie loves. Cut to her clutching the drill in response.
– Homer sets the stage for our flashback, with a very knowing reference (“The year was 1990. Back then, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince was currently known as Prince. Tracey Ullman was entertaining America with songs, sketches, and crudely drawn filler material. And Bart was eagerly awaiting his first day at school.”)
– Homer tries to instill some words of wisdom onto his son as his father did him, but thinking back… (“Homer, you’re dumb as a mule and twice as ugly! If a strange man offers you a ride, I say, take it!”) …not so good (“Lousy traumatic childhood!”)
– Li’l Jimbo with the bunny shirt is pretty ridiculously cute (“I look forward to wailing on all of you!”)
– Sad five-year-old Bart is so heartbreaking, this little kid was so full of promise that was completely dashed to bits. Not even “Curious George and the Ebola Virus” can cheer him up. A disturbing drawing of himself with knives in his back in a thunderstorm reading “SAD” perks Marge’s concerns up a bit. The best scene is when she brings it to Homer’s attention. Not looking at the drawing, Homer gives an over-reactionary enthusiasm to how wonderful little Bart’s drawing is, which then immediately switches gears when he actually looks it (“Burn it! Send it to hell!!”) This also comes when Homer is watching Twin Peaks (“Brilliant! Heh heh heh… I have absolutely no idea what’s going on.”) Don’t worry, neither did we.
– I never quite got the Milhouse gay jokes considering his well-established crush on Lisa. I guess it’s commenting on the poor work of the psychologists, perhaps in trying to project themselves onto other kids? I dunno.
– I like Pryor’s advice for Bart (“Bart must learn to be less of an individual, and more a… faceless slug.”)
– The headmaster of the school can’t budge on the price, unless of course they’re a minority group. Homer immediately adapts a (terrible) Spanish accent, but the headmaster isn’t fooled. Homer then shifts to Chinese for some reason, “Aah-so…” Marge’s line to her daughter (“Come on, honey, I guess this is a world you’ll never know”) is pretty impacting and discouraging. This is kind of a bummer episode up until the end.
– Like Homer’s vision of what museums are like, him playing foosball with Michelangelo’s David. He beats him and asks who’s next. The figure from Munch’s “The Scream” appears, yelling, “Meeeeeeeee!”
– Homer demands Marge name one man who’s ever been successful without air conditioning. Marge cites Balzac, to which Homer retorts, “No need for potty mouth just because you can’t think of one.”
– Nice that we see the white Snowball I a few times in this flashback.
– Even Flanders can’t stand for Homer’s blatant thievery, ripping his air conditioner out of the wall and shoddily propping it to his. Homer is quick to defend (“I admit it looks bad, Flanders, but haven’t you heard of ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone?'”) On cue, li’l Todd Flanders, who is definitely without sin, chucks a rock at Homer (“Got him, dad!”)
– That teacher is such a bitch (“And the ugly duckling was amazed to realize it had grown into a beautiful swan. So you see children, there is hope for anyone.” “Even me?” “No.”)
– Li’l Milhouse is pretty cute too; I love his unusually astute observation that “the world needs a clown,” inspiring Bart to be the kid he is today.
– The ever observant Lisa counts thirteen pickled eggs and one cockroach in Moe’s jar. A nervous Moe laughs, “Who are you, sweetheart, the health inspector?” The actual inspector is actually a bit down the bar. To cover, Moe offers a free margarita… that has a dirty syringe in it (“Uh, that’s a parasol.”)
– So now King Toot’s isn’t right next to Moe’s, but perhaps they moved sometime between now and the present day. Still run by the same guy though.
– Love the two inscriptions: “To Lisa: Never Forget Your Daddy Loves D’oh!” and “Dear Lisa: May Your New Saxophone Bring You Years Of D’oh!”
– Apu appears for no reason through the episode and sticks around… for no reason, but I still love it, especially at the very end where he appears exiting the kitchen with a sandwich (“Will you get off my lawn?” “Why don’t you make me?” “Why- oh, I give up.”)

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9 responses to “181. Lisa’s Sax

  1. Apparently this episode was a holdover from Season 7, as well as Al Jean’s first individual writing credit. Definitely worth knowing in an analysis of the episode.

  2. I was wondering about that. This confused me when I found out that it came out in 1997 because the flashbacks take place in 1990 when Bart was 5, and Lunchlady Doris is in there.

    It’s a great episode. One of my favorites from Season 9.

  3. The first problem with flashback episodes appears here: keeping the timeline constant. “And Maggie Makes Three” establishes Maggie was born in 1988 (which fits perfectly, since Maggie’s about one and the show first aired in 1989), yet this episode’s flashback takes place in 1990 and Bart is five. To make things more confusing as we have episodes that aired in 1990 with Bart being 10.

    I know The Simpsons is meant to be fairly loose on continuity, but it shouldn’t be too hard to keep the order of events consistent.

    Still, this is a fairly minor complaint towards an otherwise fine episode. The flashback episode where Homer forms a grunge rock band, however…

  4. This is my favourite of the 3G episodes… despite a couple of mis-steps it’s the only one which feels like a real Simpsons episode to me, rather than a weird fan fiction. It’s a nice touch bringing back Dr Pryor (last seen in “Separate Vocations”, unless he had been a background character since), almost as a marker that this episode takes place in The Past.

    Also, because this episode was produced in ’95, the rolling timeline isn’t too obvious when you put it with the other flashback episodes.

    • How do The Springfield Files, Simpsoncali… and Simpson Tide feel like weird fanfiction?

      Also yeah, this is a great episode. Don’t think it feels any different from the great episodes in seasons after this (like The Squirt and the Whale and See Homer Run) though.

      • >How do The Springfield Files, Simpsoncali…, and Simpson Tide feel like weird fanfiction?

        Well, The Springfield Files is a crossover with The X-Files. I…don’t know about the others (though Simpsons Tide was so ridiculous that it felt more like a Family Guy episode than a Simpsons one). And I liked those episodes more than Lisa’s Sax (even though Lisa’s Sax had a lot of funny moments, like the burn on The WB being an awful channel, the All in the Family opener, Homer playing foosball with Michaelangelo’s David and Edvard Munch’s The Scream, and Lisa’s saxophone getting run over, concluding with Hans Moleman(?) running over it on a tricycle with the music from “Laugh-In” playing).

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