Good News Everyone! Woops, wrong Groening. But Lisa Simpson is running for President! Check out her campaign here:
Which is really cool, and really real. In honor of my friend Lisa Simpson’s campaign, I thought I’d go back to the series itself and highlight some of the best moments featuring her yellow namesake.
In chronological order, here are The 15 Most Croumlent Lisa Simpson Episodes, followed by my Jake Wintersesque summation of the lessons learned. (Side note, am I the only Red Shoe Diaries fan out there?)
1. Moaning Lisa
Synopsis: Lisa is depressed and uninspired by her pedantic music class. She meets Jazz great Bleeding Gums Murphy, who teaches her to express herself through music.
Why it’s Great: “Moaning Lisa” is an early episode that shows Lisa still finding her way, and the show-runners still finding how to write her. Jazz would become a defining motif of the character. Ron Taylor’s Bleeding Gums Murphy is one of the show’s great guest stars.
Lesson: It’s okay to have the blues.
Why that Embiggens: Throughout the episode, people are telling Lisa to cheer up, not respecting her depression as real or valid. Marge insists she out on a smile no matter what she feels. Ironically, it is only by allowing herself to be honest about feeling down that Lisa is able to lift herself, and is through music that she finds her might.
2. Lisa’s Substitute
Synopsis: Lisa gets a substitute, Mr. Bergstrom, and it seems like he’s the only one who understands her. As substitutes do, Mr. Bergstrom has to leave at the end, but he gives Lisa something to remember.
Why It’s Great: “Lisa’s Substitute” is constantly praised as one of the best of the series, deservedly so. It’s one of the most sentimental and insightful. Sam Etic’s performance as Mr. Bergstrom brings this character to life, and the affectionate mentoring he offers Lisa is as moving and powerful as any live action drama.
Lesson: You Are Lisa Simpson.
Why that Embiggens: What does that mean? First of all the obvious and universal, but never can be stated enough: Be Yourself. Even when there are those who don’t understand you (Homer) or the ones who do can’t stay very long (Mr. Bergstrom).
3. Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington
Synopsis: Lisa wins a trip to Washington DC with her civics essay, but a first-hand peek at beltway corruption shakes her faith in American democracy.
Why It’s Great: Right off the bat, there’s something just hilarious about Homer’s latest fancy, Reading Digest, and how passionately he takes to every aspect of the magazine, from hanging on the edge of his seat wondering if the writer of a first person survival story (“the pitiless bark of the sea lion!”) to extolling the virtues of the How To Increase Your Word Power feature, which is really, really good. The glimpses we see of the other essays are jewels (“We the purples?!), and the Simpsons have a lot of fun around DC, from Homer booing the IRS to receiving a history lesson from Barbara Bush in the bath. My favorite part though, both inspirational and hilariously cynical is the hyperbolic montage of Democracy in action. After Lisa corrupt Senator Bob Arnold, a House bill to expel him makes its way through congress (who emphatically refuse to tack on a pay raise for themselves) passes and makes it to President George H.W. Bush’s desk in a matter of hours. On signing the bill, President Bush tells a foreign visitor this should make his bosses very happy.
Diplomat: YOUR bosses?!
Bush: Yep, all 250 million of them!
Cue patriotic music. God Bless the American Way.
This satire of the democratic process at its most ideal makes us laugh because it plays as fantastical, but perhaps that means it’s an invitation to make it a little more real.
Lesson: Call out corruption when you see it, even when it makes you the most unpopular person in the room.
Why that Embiggens: Trong points out that Lisa’s inflammatory rhetoric reminds us that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. She got to Washington with an inspirational essay extolling the American Dream, but when she saw that dream tarnished, she risked losing the contest to say the uncomfortable truth and do what needed to be done. And in the process, she taught Bart to stand up for what he believed in. Which is also a good lesson, even if what he believes in is slingshotting a Mark Russell pastiche.
4. Lisa Vs Malibu Stacy
Synopsis: Disgusted by the sexiest stereotypes the new talking Malibu Stacy doll promotes, Lisa reaches out to the doll’s creator, Stacy Lovell to make a new, more empowering doll, Lisa Lionheart. Also Grandpa gets a job at the Krusty Burger.
Why It’s Great: “You all have hideous hair!” Nuts and Gum. Grandpa making a sandwich that can take a bite out of you. Kathleen Turner guest stars. Great episode for Smithers as well, who’s iconically 90s computer (“You’re quite good at turning me on.”) reveals more than he intends.
Lesson: Trust in yourself and you can achieve anything!
Why That Embiggens: This is an episode of little victories, and the outcome is both subversive and inspirational. Grandpa learns that he doesn’t need a job to validate himself, and Lisa and Stacy don’t need to topel the doll conglomerate. Affirming your independence and encouraging one little girl is enough.
5. I Love Lisa
Synopsis: Ralph Wiggum reads way too much into a Valentine’s Day card Lisa gave him out of pity. After she breaks his heart, they still have to be in the President’s Day pageant together.
Why It’s Great: Bart’s anti-love candy hearts. “I Choo-choo- choose you!” The moment Ralph’s heart breaks in two. EVERYTHING about the President’s Day pageant.
The Lesson: Everyone deserves to be loved, one way or the other.
Why That Embiggens: Lisa and Ralph may not be sweethearts, but here Lisa learns a lot about letting someone down easily, the complexities of compassion, and how to bee friends.
6. Lisa’s Rival
Synopsis: Lisa befriends the new girl, Allison Taylor, who soon proves to be her superior in every way.
Why It’s Great: Winona Ryder guest stars. Diaoramarama. Jeremy’s…Iron. Ralph bents his wookie. Garfunkel, Messina, Oates, and Lisa performing their #2 hit “Born to Runner Up”. The brilliant adaptation of The Telltale Heart for the climax.
The Lesson: Sometimes second best is good enough.
Why That Embiggens: Homer once said, as hilariously resonant as it is pragmatic, “No matter how good you are at something there’s always about a million people better than you.” That’s a hard pill for a perfectionist like Lisa to swallow, but when she accepts that Allison (who is refreshingly written not as a smug antagonist, but kind, approachable, and sincere) really is her friend, that takes the pressure right off. And that’s what friends are for.
7. Lisa’s Wedding
Synopsis: At a Renaissance Faire, a fortune teller shows Lisa a vision of her future, where she gets engaged to the dashing but snobbish Hugh Parkfield.
Why It’s Great: The humorous glimpse of what people in 1996 thought 2010 would look like. Mandy Patinkin’s spot-on Hugh Grant pastiche. Martin Prince as Phantom of Springfield Elementary.
The Lesson: Whoever you marry has to love your family.
Why That Embiggens: Lisa complains about her family more than anyone, but it takes finding a seemingly perfect guy who can’t enjoy them on a personal level, on an ironic level, as a novelty, as camp, as kitsch, or as cautionary example for her to realize they’re the ones who really matter to her.
8. Lisa The Vegetarian
Synopsis: After realizing that worms sound as cute as lambs, Lisa becomes a militant vegetarian, much to the chagrin of Homer. After ruining the BBBQ (The extra B is for BYOBB), Lisa meets fellow vegetarians Apu and Paul and Linda McCartney, who teach her the virtue of tolerance.
Why It’s Great: “You don’t win friends with salad!”. Troy McClure’s tripe-propaganda “Meat and You: Partners in Freedom”. Paul McCartney makes 3 out of 4 Beatles to guest star.
The Lesson: Tolerate the monsters around you, because you can influence people without badgering them always.
Why That Embiggens: Haven’t we all been in Lisa’s shoes about one issue or another? Sometimes there is the temptation to ruin a barbecue, figuratively speaking, but Apu has the right idea about a more peaceful path to mutual tolerance, like in Paul’s song, “Live and Let Live”.
9. Summer of 4’2
Synopsis: Lisa tries to reinvent herself as hipper for the benefit of cool new friends she makes as her family (and Milhouse) vacation at the Flanders’ beach home.
Why It’s Great: The title is a reference to Summer of ’42, which already has esoteric appeal. Christina Ricci has a great guest turn as Erin, one of Lisa’s first real friends. Milhouse is fantastic in this episode, from his spinkler impression with less dignity than the last day of school demands, to his unfortunate resemblance to The Dud in Mystery Date.
The Lesson: You can’t fake the great person that you are, and you shouldn’t try.
Why it Embiggens: Predictably, Bart exposes Lisa’s geekish leanings to her new friends, but it turns out they didn’t like her because she used vapid slang (“Like you know, whatever”) or referenced Baywatch, but because of her true self shining through the facade. For someone who had doubted herself as dorky, that’s a good thing to learn.
10. Lost Our Lisa
Synopsis: Lisa gets lost on her way to see the Treasures of Isis exhibit at the museum, and Homer has to find her.
Why It’s Great: Perhaps more touching than funny. Both the excitement of seeing a cool event at the museum and taking the wrong bus are things I can certainly relate to, and the childhood panic of getting lost is brought to life vividly. The ending, where Homer and Lisa discover meaning of the Orb of Isis, the music that hasn’t been heard for thousands of years, is beautiful. The B-Story, where Bart super-glues assorted nonsense to his face that must be removed with terror sweat, is also gold.
Lesson: The world can be a big scary place, and sometimes we need help.
Why That Embiggens: At first glance, this doesn’t seem to be empowering for Lisa. Yet in her element not as the brainy, overwritten know-it-all but as a real 8-year-old, she is believable and relatable, and when you can admit your own limitations, then you have the chance to discover how strong you really are.
11. Bart to the Future
Synopsis: After misbehaving at a Native American casino, Bart is taken in the back at shown a vision of his future, where he is the slacker brother of President Lisa.
Why It’s Great: Obviously I have to include this episode because its prediction of President Lisa after President Trump is what kicked this whole thing off. There’s a lot to love here, as there is with all future episodes. “Smell you later” has replaced “goodbye”, Bart is roommates with Ralph Wiggum, and Lisa is now president. What’s funny about this future is how all the kids are essentially exaggerated versions of their younger selves. Milhouse, for example, may have an impressive position as Secretary of the Treasury, but he still harbors an unrequited crush on Lisa, Kearny is a bully, now with the Secret Service immunity to carry out the president’s secret murders, etc. Funniest gag might be when Lisa and Bart are telling their parents about their respective daily accomplishments. Next to appointing a Supreme Court justice, a Bewitched marathon doesn’t really stack up.
Lesson: Now matter how high you rise, you can’t change your family.
Why That Embiggens: Like Presidents Carter and Clinton before her, Lisa has to deal with a less-than-stellar sibling. It’s a role she adapts her impatience to tolerance, especially when Bart uses his slacker charm to buy the US some time to get out of debt. Maybe this is how he ends up Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
12. Make Room For Lisa
Synopsis: Lisa is forced to share a room with Bart after Homer lets a cellphone company install a tower in her room. The ensuing stress gives Lisa stomach pains, and Homer reluctantly takes her to a New Age healing store where they take a spin in some sensory deprivation tanks.While in the tank, Lisa fantasies herself as Snowball II, and then a tree, Cokie Roberts, and most dauntingly, Homer. While in Homer’s shoes, Lisa recalls all the things her father has done for her, taking her a lot of places he hates because he loves her. The two then enjoy the Demolition Derby together.(This doesn’t fix the problem of the cell phone tower in Lisa’s room, but it’ll be gone by next week).
Why It’s Great: The scenes of Lisa in the sensory deprivation tank are astounding, showing the power of the mind to create lights and colors and eventually entire fantasies from it. Homer’s journey is genuinely thrilling, with an almost Hitchcockian suspense when the Flanders have buried the tank underground. The B-plot, which involves Marge spying on people’s cell-phone calls using Maggie’s baby-monitor has a hilarious pay off (“Gotcha Mrs. Simp-“). And I like the ending.
Lesson: Appreciate the people who love you, even when they drive you nuts.
Why That Embiggens: This is a takeaway for both Lisa and Homer, two very different people with very different interests. That’s the way it goes in the world, and it’s very easy to get on each other’s nerves. If we didn’t learn to cut each other some slack, we’d go nuts.