(originally aired March 8, 1998)
You can certainly understand how Lisa would be curious of how a bright, book-smart girl like her sprung from the loins of her dim-witted dullard father. Does she have latent Simpsons qualities that will emerge later in life? In this episode, we learn about the supposed Simpson gene, and Lisa’s attempts to save and preserve her intellect from it. After a few days where nothing seems to go right, Lisa fears she is beginning to lose her smarts. Grampa overhears and confirms this, referring her granddaughter to the “Simpson gene.” Apparently both Homer and Bart were pretty sharp and got good grades as kids, but over the years grew lazy and boorish into the dummies they are today. It’s an interesting story idea, and presented in an intriguing way; Grampa isn’t exactly the most reliable source of information, so you, as well as Lisa, are questioning the validity of it, and soon suspect it may actually be real.
As sharp as she is, Lisa needs to find more about DNA, and what better place than a filmstrip by Troy McClure? It’s one of his last appearances, and I think one of his best (“You take a dash of Dad, a pinch of Mom, let it simmer for nine months, and mmm, that’s good Billy!”) There’s a great atmosphere to this show, intermittently showing Lisa writing in her diary about her mission, and eventually submission to a life of limited intelligence. The best bit is where she stands atop the stairs at night, seeing the flickering of the TV playing something loud and bargain basement with Bart and Homer cheering. She descends the stairs as if stooping to their level, and father and son, both looking kind of creepy in a dumbening blue light, invite Lisa to join them. Homer pats the seat next to him, which has a subtle creepy echo. It establishes a great tone, something this season hasn’t had much of.
Homer eventually catches wind on what Grampa told Lisa and decides to set things right. One morning she gathers up every extended family member he could track down to prove that they’re not all morons. Turns out they actually are. But, as it seems, the Simpson women are actually great successes, and as one reveals, the defective gene is only on the Y-chromosome, so Lisa is in the clear. It’s a brilliant conclusion, that’s both sincere and kind of backhanded; Lisa’s “I’ve never been happier to be your daughter!” is sweet, but if she happened to be a boy, she would hate her father’s guts. I also love all the designs of the Simpson men, and Dan Castellaneta’s many different variations of Homer’s voice he uses for them all. What a talented guy, able to take one voice and vary it up into dozens. This is a pretty classic show, with a lot of heart and sincerity, well directed, and with a story that keeps you engaged. There’s also plenty of humor, much of it from the wonderful B-story which I didn’t even touch on in the main part of this review. It’s a damned good episode. S’all I gotta say.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Lisa’s mental break starts when she’s the only one who cannot solve a seemingly simple brain teaser on the back of a pre-packed lunch: Professor Provolone’s Picto-Puzzle. It seems completely obvious to me now since I’ve seen the episode, I don’t remember if I got it from just seeing it once. But you totally get Lisa’s feeling, we’ve all had times that we’ve been unable to figure something out, then when we do, or when someone tells us the answer, we feel like total morons. Even Ralph gets it (“I don’t need a hint, Ralph!” “But you’re suffering!”)
– Miss Hoover’s class presents their agriculture projects: Janey makes good use of pipe cleaners, and Ralph’s got a big ol’ cow heart in a bleeding paper bag (“Don’t open it, Ralph. I’ll just give you a C minus.”) Lisa, meanwhile, had spaced it, and comes up with a quick substitute: a little eraser pig with push pins and a springy tail, an object right out of an old Life in Hell comic. I love after Hoover’s “This is terrible at best. I’m surprised at you, Lisa!” Lisa looks down at her shoddy handiwork, contemplates for a moment, and bluntly says, “Me too.”
– Gotta mention the B-story: Apu is shocked to find the elderly Jasper locked down in his freezer, hoping to live to see the future. Inspired by gawkers offering him money to see the freezer geezer, Apu reworks his store into the Freak-E-Mart, a museum of supposed oddities. Jasper, or Frostilicus as Grampa calls him, has become a pretty immortal show staple because of this; I remember going to the reformatted 7-Elevens during the movie promotion and almost dying when I saw a frozen Jasper decal over one of the freezer doors. There’s so many classic bits in this subplot: Homer’s fascination over nudie pens, Jasper insisting they change his pants as fashion dictates and to thaw him out when robot wives are cheap and effective, the offensive hat, do you dare to read: “Show Me Your Ti-” (“It says ‘Show Me Your Tie,” real cute, let’s go!”) and of course, when Jasper is thawed out, “Moon Pies… what a time to be alive.”) Saddened by their lost business venture, but not discouraged, Apu and Sanjay reopen as the Nude-E-Mart, standing outside as doormen in the buff. Sanjay is standing in front of a bike rack, which pretty much exposes him as either having no genitals, or maybe he’s got them tucked back somewhere.
– I always thought it was a nice moment for Marge to be cutting Grampa’s hair; it brings him into the house in a believable way, that he’d have a stupid tiff with his regular barber. Also great is that he’s got the tablecloth wrapped around him, and when he puts it back on the table and shakes it, all the little hairs start floating in the air.
– Bringing more question to Grampa’s believability, as if you needed more, was first he starts showing off his son’s work (“Your dad used to be smart as a monkey! But then his mind started getting lazy and now he’s dumb as a chimp!”) Then when he moves onto Bart… (“Back when he was your age, he was smart as a chimp!”)
– The McClure film is great, as I said; the bit where he takes off his helmet and the other people working by him bolt and peer though the door, the rickety condition of the movie, and how the production abruptly ends when Billy asks what DNA stands for and McClure looks dumbstruck.
– Lisa’s plight could not be more tragic in that she is stuck watching “When Buildings Collapse” on FOX (“Man has always loved his buildings. But what happens when the buildings say ‘no more!'”) It’s a spectacular sequence, full of great ad-libs by Cartwright and Castellaneta (best is when Homer mutters, “I didn’t think it was gonna fall down, but then…”) Followed immediately by “When Surgery Goes Wrong!”
– A horrifying vision of things to come in Lisa’s vision of her dumb future: a big ol’ housemam with an inexplicable Southern accent, ridden to a hammock staring at the boob tube with Ralph as her Wiener Shack-workin’ husband. One of her many kids using the “pryin’ bar” on her is so unbelievably disturbing and hilarious; I’d be devastated if I were Lisa too.
– Lisa realizes her days are numbered (“Soon, the arts and literature I love will be replaced by talk radio and vulgar mudflaps.”) She indulges in the finer things perhaps one last time, but encounters a few… bumps. The beautiful work of art she admires at the museum is revealed to be a fake; one of the guards reveals he painted that and the real one is in his garage. Later, at the Jazz Hole, Lisa has a brush with a pretentious jazz prick (“Sounds like she’s hitting a baby with a cat.” “You have to listen to the notes she’s not playing.” “Pssh, I can do that at home.”) After the musician’s set, Lisa goes to tell her how inspiring it was, and the musician gives her a few more words for thought, which cause Lisa to sprint off with a new sense of purpose…. much to the artist’s chagrin (“Damn, that felt like a sale.”)
– Lisa gets on TV to pour her heart out by claiming she’s staunchly against a random proposition 305, which turns out to be for discount fares for war widows. Homer seems to agree (“I’m supposed to talk to you about proposition 305.” “Mooching war widows…”) My favorite line in the show is probably from Brockman, having to follow up Lisa’s impassioned speech out of the blue (“Little girl likes her brain. What’s your opinion?”)
– Love all the Simpson men’s pathetic jobs: running an unsuccessful shrimp company, shooting birds at the airport (“Everybody hates birds! Right?”), prison snitch, jug band manager, begging celebrities for money… Also great is the last of the Simpson women’s accomplishments, regional sales coordinator for the third largest distributor of bunk and trundle beds. Marge is most impressed by that last one.
– Homer dispenses the moral of the episode, with Marge chipping in (“Remember, there’s nothing that says you can’t be a Simpson and a success.” “Unless you’re a man.”) But Lisa still has some of her father in her after all: when she finally gets the brain teaser, she lets out an impulsive “Woo-hoo!” Then backs up with a more dignified “I mean, splendid.” It’s a really sweet ending.