(originally aired May 19, 1996)
So immediately following our star-studded rocktacular finale is a slightly more low-key companion, and as most meditative episodes are, it’s about Lisa. We start with the ending of another school year, where Lisa makes the shocking discovery that being hall monitor and head of the yearbook committee hasn’t done much to make her popular, finding she hasn’t a friend in the world. A brief sidebar, I always wonder about the character of Janey in these situations; she’s occassionally shown as Lisa’s friend, but other times appears disinterested in her. My opinion, she’s a fickle bitch in sheep’s clothing. Same with all the other girls at her slumber party in “Flaming Moe’s,” or any other time we see girls with Lisa. None of them really “get” Lisa, thus her loneliness. This malaise sets in right as the Simpson family are heading off to Flanders’ beach house for the summer. Deciding a different approach is needed to solve her dilemma, Lisa concludes she must create a new identity for herself, leaving town with an empty suitcase.
The family (plus Milhouse) arrives at sunny Little Pwagmattasquarmesettport, another Simpsons name that’s absolutely brilliant for reasons I can’t accurately explain. Lisa’s first step is to get a new outfit: a tie dye number with backwards cap and tinted sunglasses. I love how it’s basically a getup from the eyes of someone approximating what a cool kid would wear; it almost works. She runs across some kids under the pier, laid back beach town folks who aren’t the sharpest, but are overall nice people. A lot of the episode’s charm comes from Lisa’s nervousness in not just keeping up the charade of her alternate persona (“Like, y’know, whatever…”), but also in just being in social situations. Particularly great is her first encounter, where she’s garnered up the will to walk over to the kids, then is greatly spooked by a wayward seagull. She is eventually welcomed into the group, and builds a particular bond with the sole girl, Erin, performed with a genuine relaxed nature by Christina Ricci.
There’s a few other things going on around the Lisa story to generate more laughs. Homer embarks on a mission to procure some illegal fireworks, which of course results in an amusing catastrophe. Even more fantastic is Milhouse, who seems to only be there be obligation that Marge told Bart that he should bring someone. He ends up becoming the ultimate third wheel; his presence is not really desired by anyone, he’s just tolerated for being there. Meanwhile Bart is discouraged that Lisa’s friends aren’t as easily swayed by his antics as those back in Springfield. As petty vengeance, she uses the school yearbook to expose Lisa’s nerdy self, devastating her. The Milhouse stuff works particularly well in the third act when Bart and Lisa are heavily antagonistic toward each other, and Milhouse is none-the-wiser in the middle taking the brunt of their childish attacks. All is well in the end, of course, as the kids accept Lisa for the person she is, in the form of desecrating Homer’s car with sea shells. A bit of a heel face turn, but it still works, and is a satisfying enough end for a swell show.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Great acting, vocally and animation-wise, on Milhouse imitating the different types of sprinklers.
– Nice sign outside the Yearbook Office (“Immortalizing Your Awkward Phase,”) and wonderful bit when Lisa uses a box cutter to retrieve the new books, unknowingly holding up one with a humungous tear right on the cover. Noticing it, she tosses it aside and holds up a fresh one. The name “Retrospecticus” is also brilliant; I’m sure Lisa spent a while coming up with an intellectual name that ultimately no one will pay mind to.
– Great comeback to Nelson’s classic “Who died and made you boss?” to which Lisa responds, “Mr. Estes, the publications adviser.” No mind is really paid to this, as Nelson takes charge and just passes out all the books to the crowd. Now those books looked pretty expensive; not only am I surprised the school could afford them, but I’m sure they wouldn’t want them to be handled by eight-year-olds and end up given away.
– Nice freeze frame moment of Lisa’s superlatives, including record holder for most hand raises in a semester (763), and tidiest locker (unopposed).
– Wonderful scene of Flanders talking to Homer over the fence about his “rhubarb of a pickle of a jam.” It’s a double whammy of jokes, as the uninterested pose of Homer with his one arm on the fence is hilarious, as is Flanders recounting he’s been called for jury duty and the basics of the case, all of which flows so realistically like he’s actually recalling the information. Homer gives him the hand motion to get to the point and Ned asks if he wants to use his beach house. Homer agrees, only if he also look at his septic tank.
– Great, great bit when Lisa muses about her loneliness, gesturing to her books (“These are my only friends. Grownup nerds like Gore Vidal, and even he’s kissed more boys than I ever will.”) Marge, none the wiser, responds, “Girls, Lisa. Boys kiss girls.”
– Love the silliness that Lisa packed a microscope to bring to the beach. And great callback at the end when in the yearbook, one of the kids wrote to bring her microscope next time.
– Love all the post-it notes around the Flanders house. Even Marge is annoyed by the overkill; she finds an empty ice tray in the freezer, each slot with a note, “Fill Me.” She incredulously asks, “With what, Ned?” She flips the note over to reveal another continuing, “With Water.” Also great is Homer taking the “Put Food In Me” off the fridge and onto his gut.
– Great timing of Homer and his “improvised swimsuit,” wearing a welcome mat over his groin. He walks outside, says hello to a person, then we see the reflection of red and blue sirens. I suppose he said hello to a cop right outside the door.
– Hilarious bit of Homer gleefully driving the car in low tide.
– Love the family playing Mystery Date, seems appropriate the Flanders would have a lame board game lying around for fun. Especially great is Homer’s slow giddy realization that the dud looks strikingly similar to Milhouse (“Hey! He looks just like you, Poindexter!”)
– Homer’s casual read to the Apu substitute at the kwik stop is such a great performance (“Let me have some of those porno magazines… large box of condoms… a couple of those panty shields, andsomeillegalfireworks, and one of those disposable enemas. Ehhh… make it two.”) Not suspicious at all. Also great is Marge’s bewilderment unpacking the items (“I don’t know what you have planned tonight, but count me out.”) The convenience clerk also has a gem of a line, presenting Homer with the M-320 (“Celebrate the independence of your nation by blowing up a small part of it.”)
– Nice bit when Lisa and the kids are hanging out at the house; Erin mentions that her mother would be intrusive in offering Rice Krispie squares and Tang. Marge, coming in with a tray of just that, hears this and does a quick 180 back in the kitchen.
– Homer’s firework fiasco is a pretty spectacular sequence, culminating in the dishwasher erupting with a bunch of charred gunk. And great followup as we see Marge in the background mopping it all up in the next scene. There’s a lot of pitiful Marge stuff in this episode, from her talking about how she always dreamed her daughter would be her best friend, and the start of the third act as a smiling, but internally devastated Marge looks at the sunrise through the window whilst blindly scrubbing at all the destroyed dishes in the sink.
– I like how Lisa is utilizing all of Bart’s old catchphrases, like she figured they would work for her audience. Bart is indignant of protecting his expressions, but Marge is less receptive (“Oh, you haven’t said that in four years. Let Lisa have it.”)
– Great callback to “Bart on the Road;” apparently there actually is a grammar rodeo.
– Wonderful acting moment as Lisa snaps at Bart at the breakfast table, then snaps back when Marge re-enters the room. And great reveal with the cereal box to see that Milhouse was at the table the whole time. That leads great to the carnival scene where he is caught in the middle of their fight. I especially like the end when Lisa’s bumper car goes out of the ring and taps a tree… and a bird’s nest falls on her head.
– Great read by Homer, undercutting the sentimental climax: “Sweet merciful crap! My car!!” Leading right to the fallout, seeing the sea-adorned car is being harangued by seagulls. Bart is redeemed by having the kids sign Lisa’s yearbook, and Milhouse giddily points out his own signature, “See you in the car!” My friend signed that in my yearbook one year, right in the corner and all.
Season 7 Final Thoughts
In terms of favorite season so far, it’s a tie between 3 and 5, with 3 championing in more emotional and grounded stories that examine our characters, and 5 succeeding in cramming as many ridiculous and crazy gags and laughs into each show as possible. Season 7 is the happy marriage between these two elements, each episode managing to find new successful ways of having its cake and eating it too. The show excels in its ability to blend the truly emotional with the hilarious, and this season does it in spades. Like season 3, a lot of the shows feel very grounded and realistic in spending time with our characters combatting with life and each other. When the kids are taken into protective services, or Homer’s mother must leave him again, moments are played very straight, but peppered with jokes that don’t distract, but sweeten the moment. And even at its silliness, like “Two Bad Neighbors,” the show still feels real to me, and that’s the highest compliment you can really give any fiction. We still have one more classic season left, but I’m pretty confident season 7 has a lock for favorite season. It’s stupendous.
“Bart Sells His Soul,” “Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming,” “A Fish Called Selma,” “Twenty-Two Short Films About Springfield,” “The Curse of the Flying Hellfish”
No worst. Best season is a perfect season.