195. Lisa the Simpson

(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.

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12 responses to “195. Lisa the Simpson

  1. The final Oakley & Weinstein episode. They had the unenviable task of keeping the show at a high level during seasons 7 and 8, a time when most shows go downhill or off the air, but they did a damn good job. I recommend their hidden commentary to this episode, just hit 6 when it shows Professor Provolone’s Picto-Puzzle.

  2. Actually, “The Simpson Tide” aired after this, and it was the second holdover from Season 7.

  3. Second episode of the season not directed by Scully; final episode with Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein as showrunners. In-line with their later efforts, introducing new elements to some of the show’s long established trademarks, in this case, the Simpsons’ idiocy, and with a healthy amount of focus on secondary characters.

    …This wouldn’t explain Herb, though..
    The episode has plenty of health, but I can’t help feeling sorry for Bart being apprehensive about his future, then just surrendering any ambitions and joining the stupid side. Especially sad considering the events of “Lisa’s Sax”, it’s like this is something recurring in the boy’s life.

  4. I just want to say I love your blog and have read every single post. I check every day for more. I’ve really enjoyed re-living The Simpsons’ classic episodes; reading your blog is somehow like watching the show with a witty friend. It’s interesting seeing how the series progressed as a whole (I guess it’s all downhill from here – looking forward to seeing your take on things as the show declines in quality). Never really thought about WHY these things happened, so it’s fascinating hearing your factoids on staffing changes, etc. It’s so sad how awful it is now, especially the last few seasons. My favourite bits are your tidbits & quotes, have lol’d quite a few times at your descriptions of the laugh-worthy moments.
    OK, I’ll stop my incessant praise 😛 Looking forward to reading more!

  5. PS: This was a pretty golden Season 9 episode, I usually enjoy the Lisa-centric shows. The Troy McClure DNA video…priceless. “Ever notice how Chinese people have Chinese children, and fat people have fat children?”

  6. The “my legs hurt” guy is definitely my favorite relative.

  7. Time for my first comment ever, but I’ve loved these reviews and felt it was time to comment.

    You briefly mentioned how Homer and Bart are watching tv in the dark with the brilliant creepy effects going but my fave part of that bit has to be when Homer and Bart start devouring the squished and melted chocolate bars.
    The way they are staring at Lisa with their eyes wide is so perfect. Like they’re a pack of dogs waiting for their new member to join up. Hilarious!

  8. This episodes okay but I never liked that they had to give a reason for Homer and Bart’s stupidity (Which became common during the later season). Up until then, it was suggested that Homer was just a little slow and his stupidity came from his child-like naivety and rash thinking. Same with Bart, he was an under-achiever and also quite rash in his actions but he wasn’t a complete idiot. But now I guess, he’s doomed to grow up to be as dumb as Homer, no matter what he does. I just think its kind of a cheat and it ruins previous episodes that show Bart trying to better himself. Couldn’t the moral just be that it doesn’t matter what your genes show, its what you do with your life that counts.

    • I can see waht you are saying -and i partially agree- but, i dont feel the same. Yeah, it can seems like a cheat, but overall the Simpsons male stupidity is such a dumb theory that may be true and may be not. Maybe they are just all doomed to the mediocrity because, you know, they are Simpsons after all. I dont see the theory here put as scientifically valid, like they instead will do in an horrible future episode with the crayon in Homers nose.

  9. Never really cared for this episode. Not a big fan of episodes where Lisa acts like a brat and doesn’t learn anything by the end of it. Like Lisa the Vegetarian where she says both she and Homer are at fault despite Homer not actually doing anything wrong. B-plot saves this from the trash bin.

  10. For all the great things this one does as mentioned, I just find the conclusion to this mean spirited and yes, sexist.
    Lisa is okay because she’s female and men are stupid. Yes, we’ve seen Homer’s not exactly the worlds’ brightest guy, but as already commented what about Bart? is he doomed to idiocy? but we’re supposed to feel okay because Lisa will be clever and she’s female.

    Really if another series had done this premise with reversed genders the feminists would’ve ripped it apart.

    It’s sad, there is so much here to like, I love the Dna video, I love Lisa’s love of her interlect, but I just can’t get past the ending to this one, it’s just so mean spirited and certainly not the Simpsons I remember which poked fun at all equally irrispective of any differences.

    I would’ve much preferd if the Simpson gene was just a load of rubbish, or if perhaps the Bouvier side of the family proved to be amazingly accomplished meaning that all the ckids had the potential to be fantastic, —- which would again be a great call back to chief supreme court justice Bart.

  11. Not a fan of the whole “Simpson gene” thing (Herb Powell, anyone?), and we know from the Lisa’s Sax episode that Bart was never good in school, but I still like this one. Especially the Apu story

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