289. Little Girl in the Big Ten

(originally aired May 12, 2002)
There seemed to be potential in this premise… but ultimately it went unfulfilled, thanks to some lapses in logic and an unusually irrelevant third act. And a filled B “plot” didn’t help either. In order to not fail gym, Lisa must take classes with an outside coach. Here we get the return of Coach Lugash, who is hands-down the best thing in this episode. I love Castallaneta’s loud, boisterous read as he’s screaming at little girls that they’re going to be killed by poisonous snakes. I’m all for yelling at children, it’s comedic gold. So Lisa is in class with two other girls, who she discovers have intellectual hobbies, and then after that discovers are in college. Now, Lisa’s eight years old, let’s say she’s around four foot. These other girls are maybe about a foot taller than her, so I guess they could pass for extremely petite adults. But them mistaking Lisa, a child, as a college student? I just don’t see it. Plus, in the class, Lisa asks Lugash if she’ll be able to pass gym with the girls standing right there. The fact that she is in elementary school had to come up at some point during all of this. It’s a big leap, but strangely not the worst of this show’s issues.

So Lisa starts passing herself off as a college student to keep her new friends, sneaking off during school to ingraciate herself on campus. She also seems to sit in during lectures, which also is possible. But then they make jokes that the one girl cheated off Lisa’s test and that she got sixteen credits, how is that possible? She’s not registered for any classes, she wouldn’t be able to do that. Maybe since I’m sure Springfield University isn’t so well functioning, she managed to trick some teachers into getting her name on their attendance sheets or something. But that would have been interesting and amusing to see! Instead we have time filler with Bart in a plastic bubble, a temporary health measure when he contracts panda virus from a Chinese mosquito. Then it just becomes a cartoon, with various over-the-top gags involving the bubble. Bart is apprehensive and embarassed by the bubble in the first scene, but then after that he’s as cocky as ever, and even has developed a catch phrase for himself as new savior for nerds on the playground. All in all, it’s more time I wish we had devoted to the Lisa story, as it actually had… y’know, a purpose.

Milhouse notices Lisa sneaking out during recess, and he, Martin and Database go follow her. They find her in a lecture hall, and call her out on being a kid, exposing her charade to everyone, including Lisa’s new friends. This is the end of act two. Alright, to me, this feels like “Summer at 4 Ft. 2,” where Lisa gets new friends pretending like she’s someone she’s not, and in the end must be true to herself, and that’s what her friends liked about her in the first place. Do we see the two girls in the third act? Nope. Doesn’t really matter, since they’re not even characters. But one scene of them maybe still being bitter and not wanting to hang out with a kid would have been worth it. Does Lisa feel vindictive toward Milhouse for ruining her ruse? Nope. So what is the third act? Lisa feels ostracized from the other kids at school and wants to fit in again. Now… when did she fit in to begin with? Lisa’s an outcast from everyone else, that’s her role in the show. She never was accepted before. So Bart lends Lisa his bubble to play a prank on Skinner, and she’s celebrated by the kids, and everything is alright. What? Now, this might have worked if actually set up right. Maybe it’s like “Lard of the Dance” where Lisa realizes she has so many short years to stay a kid and decides to indulge in childish pranks and hold off on college for a while, and then the ending makes sense. But instead it’s all from Lisa’s sadness of kids mocking her for being smart, which they already did anyway. This episode could have been worthwhile, but ultimately ended up kind of… shit.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I’m not sure if we saw Mrs. Pommelhorst before this, but I kind of like the character, a burly, butch, no nonsense gym teacher with a Tress MacNeille voice I can stomach. Later the writers thought it would be hysterical to make multiple jokes about how she was getting a sex change. Get it? Because if you’re a woman and you seem really masculine, that means you want to get a sex change!
– To convince her to take Lugash’s class, Lisa has a hallucination of meeting President Kennedy, convincing her that athletics are just as important as academics. It’s a very confusing and pointless sequence, with the only joke being that Kennedy is in hell, I guess. Biting.
– I love the design on the Krusty poster in the Chinese sweat shop. The sweat shop itself is a bit of an easy joke though.
– Lugash’s explanation of Lisa’s aerodynamic qualities is great (“God give you greatest gift: big head! Like beach ball made of bone! Gives you perfect balance! See you tomorrow! Rest your giant head!”)
– Robert Pinsky guest stars, and does a fine job. Though I think I like the material of the emcee introducing him better (“Now open your minds for the Coltrane of the quatrain, the Tony Danza of the AB stanza!”)
– Lisa comes to campus to find it completely deserted. Turns out everyone’s taking Anthro 101: Passive Analysis of Visual Iconography. The class just watches Itchy & Scratchy cartoons, and projects bullshit messages and meanings to them (“It show show the depletion of our natural resources has pitted our small farmers against each other.” “Yes… and birds go tweet. What else?”)
– I’m surprised they brought back Lisa’s gymnast skills to get her up the tree, and that they even merged the two stories at all in the end. And it all might have worked if they set it up in a way that made sense for Lisa.
– In the end, we get this golden gem from Ralph (“Look! It’s Lisa! And she’s winning us back!”) I can’t express how much I hate this line. Combined with the nonsensical third act turn, it being Ralph saying it, and the complete written nature of the line… it’s fucking awful. It may be my least favorite line in the whole series, though there are probably others that are worse. What’s your least favorite line ever? Send me a message at idontgiveacrap@whocaresyoustupiddipshitasshole.net. Just kidding. Just post a comment.

29 responses to “289. Little Girl in the Big Ten

  1. It seems to me that the writers very much would like Bart and Lisa to be adults (in the coming seasons I believe there’s a bunch of Bart-gets-a-girlfriend episodes that act like he’s an adult), so I wonder if they wouldn’t have been better off just aging the characters. Lisa in college is at least fresh terrain. Of course doing something risky like that would give Fox a reason to cancel them if they failed, so I understand the status quo equals everyone keeps their jobs from here to eternity. But as the seasons go on, the kids act less and less like kids.

    That Ralph line is pretty bad, and I would say the worst part of it is that Lisa, of course, never won them over to begin with. She’s always been an outcast. I still think the line that bothered me more than any, though, was in some episode (don’t remember which one) where Homer says, “I’m going to do things just like America…unilaterally.” Because Homer knows so much about American foreign policy or even what the word “unilateral” means. But at least we got that bit of “biting” commentary out of it.

  2. This is probably my favourite episode post season 10. I find it very charming for whatever reason.

  3. Guy Incognito

    Can’t remember the episode, or the line. But I really hated a line in a later season where Bart says he’s been in the Forth Grade for 2 years. I could go into detail about all the reasons I hate that one line, but I don’t have all the time in the world. Lets just say Bart Gets An F is one of my favourite episodes.

  4. There’s probably more than one least favorite line I have, but this one still sticks to me. I don’t remember what episode it is (and frankly, I don’t want to remember.) but the joke is Homer tries hammering in the house, but hits a socket, gets electrocuted yadda yadda yadda. Then he actually says this: “NOW TO DO THE SAME THING AGAIN!” ugh. Worst. Line. Ever.

  5. It seems like the biggest problem with later seasons, even present in the better episodes, is that the writers just plain don’t know how to end an episode – the third act always seems weirdly disconnected from the rest of the episode.

    It’s fucking bizarre, professional writers should know basic story structure.

    • I think the problem with a classic series like this is how they had done structure-breaking/experimental episodes (Mysterious Voyage of Our Homer, 138th Episode, 22 Short Films, and even as recently by this point as Trilogy of Error and Behind the Laughter are obvious ones, but nearly EVERY episode had pretty groundbreaking innovations in storytelling, pacing, animation, etc) and I think there was a pressure on later writers to a) Do jokes, b) Do something new with the characters, c) Do something NEW — period — and so on. The fact is, I think only a few writers since the original ones really “got” the show, and even beyond that point, whatever good jokes and scenes there have been since then (you know, a good line or joke an episode versus EVERY LINE BEING A GOOD JOKE), it still doesn’t FEEL like the Simpsons.. it never has and never will again without the original creative team (who would have likely evolved/progressed the show in unique and interesting ways instead of what is basically a regression, in episodes that often feel like disjointed “skits” thrown together without regard). I think it is actually probably hard to write for the Simpsons, beyond the “Simpsons did it” there-are-so-many-episodes/plots thing… I mean, there are so many characters and 85% of them could carry whole episodes, but if there are certain rules they have to follow — like the Simpson family having to be in every scene and the focus of every plot, even in storylines centered out b- and c-characters) — and the writers probably STILL want to put their stamp on the show, but also to honor the legacy of past writers/episodes, but also to make a mainstream-friendly show, but also to… well, you get the point. Having to take all these factors into consideration probably makes the show difficult to write for.

      But there are lots of people to blame, beyond the writers, or the showrunner… The more costly a show gets to make, the less likely you will see creative freedom being expressed… that’s why most the best shows are on HBO, where ratings don’t matter as much… and that’s why shows like Breaking Bad are so mindblowing (besides, you know, just being mindblowing in general) — they average a million-ish viewers and each episode costs $4million to make, yet they haven’t ever seemed to compromise their vision, and they keep doing these crazy, new, exciting things.. on a serialized DARK television show about meth.. pretty crazy. But yeah, with the cost of everything going up, and the voice actors needing more and more money… yeah, the show was making tons of money at this point, but there was still a real pressure to do straightforward things, or at least to NOT reward people for paying attention or caring…

      The Simpsons do have that one thing going for them… every episode is basically a restart, they get to wipe the slate clean and do something new.. at the same time, the fanbase remembers… each episode builds onto this legacy, this beast of the Simpsons, and if you have to please the fanbase as well as try to get new viewers as well as… well, my points above… that’s probably why the shows feel so… all-over-the-place.

      The only interesting thing about the Simpsons lately is that they have taken a few chances. Too little, too late, but the Banksy opening, the Plympton and John K. couch gags, the weird experimental animation they’ve done in a few episodes as of late, the talking-bar-rag (?) thing… the Maggie short film… yeah, a lot of it didn’t work, but with falling ratings and seemingly an expiration date finally in sight (season 25…?)… and the cost of the show has to have lowered at least a little bit thanks to the cold, gross, ugly computer animation versus every frame handdrawn individually… the only really interesting thing they CAN do at this point is stuff like this… the show still sucks, of course, and isn’t the show it used to be, but they could try to do a few noteworthy and memorable things since it’s obviously the end… I hope.

  6. Everything that comes out of Homer’s mouth past Season 12 is the worst line ever in my book. It destroys me to think of the character he once was, delivering good-intentioned yet entirely misguided advice to his children, and giving us the audience memorable quotes that we can both live life by, and inject into everyday conversation.

    Now, he spews garbage and instead of caring about inflicting fatherly life advice (however wrong it may be), the writers have made him into a screaming, ranting, bumbling asshole, who doesn’t do anything more than make the crudest [attempt at] jokes possible, all while exhibiting a level of stupidity that far supersedes what a human being would call normal.

    In the earlier days he was dumb, yes, but he had a heart and he meant well in everything he did. Even when he thought sticking his arm inside a vending machine to get the crystal cola was a good idea, all he could think about was fulfilling his promise to Marge, only to feel terrible when he couldn’t. Who knows what the writers these days would have done with a scene like that.

  7. Worst line ever is pretty much everything said in “That 90’s Show”, combined. I cannot wait for your review of that one….

    • Oh, it’s not a line but the lazy “parodies” they do nowadays are embarassing. “Funtendo Zii”… is there even a joke there? “Blue Bronco” for their energy drinks… um, CUZ IT’S LIKE RED BULL BUT IT’S NOT, HUH HUH.

  8. for an episode about lisa pretending to be a college student, there are remarkably few scenes that feature this. poetry reading and itchy and scratchy class i guess?

    i think the secret war of lisa simpson is pretty middling for a classic season episode but they could’ve benefited by stealing from it a bit. lisa having a conflict between whether or not she wants to be challenged has far more potential then lisa feels bad after inexplicably offending the likes of martin and database (huh?)

    • Yeah, if the show still utilized any of their side characters in any capacity other than for a quick joke, maybe the incident could have caused strife between Lisa and the smarter kids like Martin. But, alas, no mention of it whatsoever in act 3.

  9. i think my biggest problem is that lisa gets mistaken for a college student, not because she’s highly intelligent but because she is in gymnastics with some rather petite girls (again, huh?)

  10. I could never buy Lisa posing as a college student. I don’t care what excuses they made for it in the episode, it just didn’t work.

    And I’m glad I’m not the only one who absolutely hated Ralph’s “winning us back” line. Though I can name a worse line than it, from Marge in “Ice Cream of Margie”: “Now I know that my lega-she is really a lega-we.” (shudders)

  11. Ian reminds me of a line that also makes me cringe – from “Brawl in the Family”, where Homer talks about police brutality, then takes a bite of the taffy ball and says “More like police chew-tality!” Ugh. Somebody slap Al Jean and tell him to stop the fucking puns.

    I recall this episode being fairly well-received when it first aired. I know that’s true for most of the shit in Season 13, but this one was inexplicably regarded as one of the best of the season. Really, the only decent thing about it is Lauren MacMullan’s direction. Just like “Bye Bye Nerdie” the previous year, she really makes this episode visually interesting, even if the script is horrible.

    It bugs me that Skinner’s birth year is given as 1953 in this episode. Wouldn’t that make him kinda young to serve in Vietnam, then?

  12. Little Thin Man Accused in Robbery

    Probably not the worst line all in all but it’s the one that comes to mind and that I remember hating straight off the bat: Uter (I think) making a reference to Fitzcarraldo and Nelson shouting ‘that movie was flawed!’ Remember when this show could make references to a breathtaking scope of films, TV shows, etc, all funny whether or not you were aware of the source material, and which still years later can take you by surprise when you discover a joke you’ve loved for years is actually a homage to something else? Well, now the school bully has a knowledge of German arthouse cinema, because if we don’t tell you what the reference is, you might not know how clever we are!

    In fact, I guess you could say the Simpsons has always been cultured, but these days they’re desperate to tell you and remind you, whereas in the past they let you know simply by being part of culture themselves.

    • Eh, I get what you’re saying, but you know, I agree… Fitzcaraldo is flawed. It’s too long. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch for a school bully to be into Herzog, maybe if he mentioned something more out-there like Heart of Glass, but Fitzcaraldo (as well as Aguirre and Stroszek) are pretty famous films…

  13. Joey Joe Joe Shabadoo

    This episode still kills me for Homer’s rendition “Tubthumping” – it has been my ringer for almost six years now.

  14. Other than Lisa passing herself off as a college student, I actually liked a few moments in this episode:

    * Grandpa getting a Nostalgia Meal (an artillery shell full of oleo!)
    * Homer singing Tubthumping
    * I am Lugash.
    * Robert Pinsky (“That’s it Pinksy. You’ve got them right where you want them.”) (“BASHOOOOOOOOO! Banana tree!”)
    * Lisa hallucinating (“You won’t eat our meat, but you’ll glue with our feet.”)

  15. Lougash and Pinsky are the only decent things here. I hate how mean this makes students and how stupidly gullable this makes the kids, indeed I hate pretty much what this does to every character accept lougash!

    Actually is Lougash our first new tertiary character for a while? I do remember seeing him later on in a really awful episode where once again his line about “lousy anger management class!” was just so well delivered it was the only thing from the episode I remember.

  16. Hmmm…i don’t remember this episode. It sounds fucking terrible. If those girls couldn’t tell the difference between an eight year old and a college-aged woman…well, shouldn’t they be the humiliated ones?

  17. My submission for Worst Line is Bart’s “The 90s? never heard of it.”

  18. I thought the Lisa plot was kinda sweet. Of course it requires extreme levels of suspension of disbelief, but once you accept that everybody is seeing this 8 year old child as a college student, her scenes in the university are nice. It was really touching for me to see how much she enjoyed being in an environment stimulating to her intellect and interests (even though, by this point in the series, Lisa is pretty much written as a teenager).

  19. I think a very-overly harsh review … the show usually isn’t, and doesn’t have to be, that bound by continuity and I think you exaggerate how much of an outcast Lisa usually is. She’s far from popular but I think she does get along OK with most others most of the time, often enough, outright outcast is an exception and it’s also in-character-enough for Lisa to regret and try to change it when it does happen.

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