303. I’m Spelling As Fast As I Can

(originally aired February 16, 2003)
This show aired directly after “Barting Over,” dubbed the “301st” episode, and while it has its problems, it’s a substantially better episode than that one. Lisa wins a school spelling bee, and is entered into a competition known as the Spell-ympics. Seems like the entire town is really psyched about her success, and while it’s not exactly clear why this is, it’s nice to see Lisa get some modicum of respect (which she quickly loses when she suggests that maybe academics can be viewed above athletes as national heroes for once). Meanwhile Homer tries out the new Krusty Burger concotion the Ribwich, and is instantly hooked. He’s surprised to find soon after that the “food” was only being tested, and soon hooks up with some fellow “rib-heads” to travel to San Francisco to catch it at its last stop. Homer’s Requiem for a Dream reaction to eating the sandwich is one of the more inspired bits in the last few years; a great representation of what it must be for these people who eat that goddamn McRib, and the frenzy they go into when McDonald’s releases it every so often. I can’t even fucking imagine what’s in that sandwich, I assume a mixture of lips, assholes and tripe. Of what animal, I’m not entirely sure though.

George Plimpton guest stars as head of the Spell-ympics, playing a very peculiar character, he’s of a serious air and seemingly standing for honesty and intellectualism, but it proves to be an odd facade. But Plimpton plays it completely straight, and he’s pretty fantastic (“If spelling is to compete, it needs a charismatic champion. Someone like me, back when I was a white-haired little boy.”) And now for the dilemma: the competition is down to three finalists, one of them being a sickeningly precocious little kid named Alex. The kid being a real crowd-pleaser, Plimpton sees him as the poster child of the “sport,” one who can bring it real legitimacy. Why this is, I’m not quite sure though. He mentioned how people care more about Ozzy Osbourne than other high-minded pursuits, meaning educational material is too straight-laced and safe. So why is your goal to have a saccharine sweet kid representing you? Wouldn’t you want some edgy, too-cool-for-school kid as your champ? Whatever, the point is that Plimtpon urges Lisa to throw the contest, and in exchange, he will offer him a full scholarship to any of the Seven Sisters colleges.

So we’re at the start of act three and we know the ending from the start. Of course Lisa is going to not take the fall, and of course she’s not going to win. But let’s think this through. It’s not like the scholarship is coming from ill-gotten means, like Lisa’s dilemma on whether to accept Burns’ money in “The Old Man and the Lisa.” It’s also not clear on exactly what she gets if she wins the Spell-ympics. Just the trophy? Is that it? So she can either win the competition and get a trophy that will sit on her shelf and collect dust, or she can flub a word and get a full scholarship to a school she knows full well her parents can’t afford, but that academically she would be accepted to. Honestly, I would have just taken the fall. I know Lisa’s a girl of integrity, and it wouldn’t be much of an ending if she sold out, but really, come on. It would be totally excusable and satisfying if she did that. But regardless, Lisa returns home to find that the town still thinks she’s great! Overall, this show’s a bit dry and thin, and I have my own issues with the ending, clearly, but it’s an alright episode, with its share of laughs, and even manages to cram in a little sweet Homer-Lisa moment at the end, when Homer chooses his daughter over his last chance at some sweet Ribwich goodness.

Tidbits and Quotes
– This is our first appearance of Elvira “parody” Booberella. Parody is in quote, since the great observation they made is that Elvira has big tits, and wore outfits that showed them prominently. I’ll admit, I was slightly amused by MacNeille’s performance the first time around, but for some reason, this character kept coming back. Why, I don’t know, but I guess the “Boooooobs!” schtick had legs. So there you go, our great new female characters for the later seasons: Lindsay Naegle, Cookie Kwan, the Crazy Cat Lady, and Booberella.
– I like the Ribwich commercial, with the product being made in some kind of steel mill, completely divorced from any kind of natural cooking process whatsoever. Krusty approves (“I don’t mind the taste!”)
– Great how Milhouse chokes on the word… “choke.” He is laughed at incessantly by the children. Skinner opposes at first (“Stop laughing! It will scar him for life!”) until he eventually gives in to a good chuckle himself. The animation of Milhouse slowly and despondently walking off stage in the background is pretty amazing.
– Chalmers heads the state spelling bee finals. The word is ‘ameliorate’ (“Can you use it in a sentence?” “Nothing can ameliorate the ineptitude of Principal Skinner.” “I wish he wouldn’t use me in every example.”)
– Lisa’s Rocky training montage is pretty great, with Otto asking her to spell AC-DC, Cletus getting his new young’n’s middle named (Scabies), and the very end bit with Moe berating her to spell “Little Miss She-Thinks-She’s-So-Big,” then losing interest (“I don’t got time for this, I got a bar to run.”) Then of course we have relapsed Barney. I guess the writers exhausted everything they could do with sober Barney, so they made him drunk again! …oh wait, they did nothing with sober Barney. Nothing. At all.
– Plimpton gives his credits, while Homer shouts from the stands. Plimtpon is so straight-faced, that’s what makes it great (“Founder of the Paris Review, and I also played the evil dean in Boner Academy.” “You monster! Why did you expel Boogerman!” “He replaced my tennis racquet with a rubber phallus.”)
– Homer has to miss Lisa’s big final competition to follow the Ribwich to San Francisco, a terrible act that’s actually made somewhat excusable when you see that he’s actually going through physical withdrawal (“It’s not just a sandwich! It’s about brotherhood, it’s about freedom, it’s about three days since I’ve had one! I’m getting the shakes! Oh, and I’m getting the fries!”)
– Lisa dreams of the Seven Sisters actually personified as women. I remember this show had a minor controversy over two of them kissing. Like there was literally a news article about it. The issue I have is why would an eight-year-old girl be dreaming about lesbianism in college, with the one urging her to “explore” with her. I don’t much like that. But I do like Plimpton popping in hawking his hot plate. “And a hot plate!” was often quoted by me and my friends.
– Homer gets his hands on the last Ribwich, but gives it away to a man offering him his car, so he can get back to Springfield for Lisa’s competition. The man eats it in five seconds (“I have the buyer’s remorse…”)
– Quimby claims Lisa is the biggest winner in Springfield history by placing second, even though Homer’s been into space, been in a Grammy-winning group, and other such accolades. Maybe they were just humoring her. And then they show they’ve carved her likeness on the side of a humungous mountain, something we’d never ever see again. Okay. Whatever.

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12 responses to “303. I’m Spelling As Fast As I Can

  1. end of episode sucks. Where is lisa “Screw college, lets get dune buggies!” Simpson? Lisa can be a hard character to write for, but of course she is when you make her take the most boring ‘moral’ route every single time.

    • Well, that line I thought was out-of-character, but I definitely think Lisa would have been objective in this situation, and realize that taking the scholarship was a very viable options, given her parents’ consistent money woes.

      • I always had a sweet spot for that line, personally, but it is pretty out of character. But all the same, for all of her moralizing she is CONSTANTLY absolutely idiotic about her family’s well being. She is so selfish in some of these episodes it really is baffling, especially when it comes to money.

        So the dune buggy line to me was like the one time I was like “fuck yeah, lisa. For once you aren’t going to ruin everyone’s fun for no reason.”

        Otherwise I really dislike lisa, ESPECIALLY late era lisa.

  2. A firmly okay episode. There’s some lame jokes (I don’t know why the writers thought Booberella was so funny either), but overall it’s not terrible. I have to agree, George Plimpton is really good in this, coming across as so dedicated despite the lunacy of what he’s saying. His final line “And now I go back to doing whatever it is I do” is quite quotable.

    I do rather like the direction in this episode too. Homer’s little Requiem for a Dream freak-out is an especially nice bit of animation.

  3. This is the only episode written by Kevin Curran that I actually like. Laughs aplenty, and the two stories come together nicely.

    “Come on, man, everyone knows the first day of school is a total wank.
    “Well, if by “wank” you mean educational fun, then stand back it’s wanking time!”

  4. Random thoughts… As much as I dislike the silly, corny Requiem for a Dream (Most High is a much more terrifying look at drugs), I do enjoy the parodies of it, and this is the first show I can remember parodying it. Good work. I also love McRibs and never understood why they’re not permanent fixtures of the otherwise-shitty menus at McDonalds.

    Anyway, I like this episode. I’m surprised by how watchable it is…!

  5. I like the B plot way more than the A plot. Homer’s continuous pursuit of a discontinued fast food sandwich is actually a great storyline.

  6. Meh, this episode is pretty lackluster, but this is where the “Lisa goes to do this contest” thing started become a regular thing. After this, she will do a crosswords tournament, she will do a singing competition, she sort of enters a poetry contest, etc,

  7. I remember quite liking this one. Some good jokes, not too silly or crazy, people mostly acting in character.

  8. This one had solid and coherent A and B plots (a rarity at this point in the show) but the execution was just off. Too many little things that just didn’t work. The town, known for its idiocy and hatred of intellectualism, was way too into the spelling bee. As you point out, there have been a ton of winners and successes from Springfield (and not just homer). The lesbian fantasy thing (Lisa is 8 FFS!). Boobarella.

    Could have been a good episode, but so many small things just add up.

  9. Oh, and Barney drinking again? So they sobered him up so he could…what? Sit around at Moe’s drinking coffee for a couple seasons and then falling off the wagon? I can’t even call that lazy. It’s just fucking incompetence.

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