Airdate: March 8th, 1998
Synopsis: After Lisa fails to solve a brain teaser that the other students got instantly, a series of unfortunate events (such as a diorama) begin scaring Lisa about the quality of her intellect. Grandpa eventually tells her of a trend that various Simpsons have, where their intellect declines over the years, calling it a “Simpson Gene”. A frightened Lisa tries to fight back against the suspected decline, only to fear that she’s becoming lowbrow and low-class.
Review *SPOILERS*: Is it possible for one scene to make an entire episode just seem mean spirited? It’s a pretty damn hard feat, but “Lisa the Simpson”, which seems almost perfect, just contains one little scene that drives me spare.
Yes, it’s a Lisa-centred episode. Some of the best Lisa-centred episodes focus on her relationship within the clan of The Simpsons: she’s probably the most down-to-earth of the group (Homer and Bart are Homer and Bart, and Marge is occasionally spacey). Even so, she’s portrayed as a bit aloof, reserved with her intellect in the dumb town of Springfield. So, an episode that seems to take her down a peg, show that she can still fall into the same traps as the rest of the town? That’s a good idea. We did see her take up an angry activist moment in “Lisa the Vegetarian”, where, in pushing her beliefs via pig-napping, made her little better than Homer “You don’t Win Friends With Salad” Simpson himself. However, to see this normally intellectual character enter a period of self doubt, thanks to family coincidence… that makes for an entertaining episode.
And, for the first two and a half acts, it is a very gripping episode. Having Lisa deal with the fact that she might be damned to the same amounts of insolence as the rest of the town of Springfield is surprisingly emotional. You see, she was slipped up by a mere brain teaser that the rest of the kids got in seconds. Is she overanalysing the brain teaser? Maybe. It’s Lisa Simpson: in a town of the average joes, she’s the one who looks too deep. That’s a really creative way to show that a character that’s normally an ace has her human flaws.
Led on by, well, Grandpa about Simpson history, and taking on more activities with Homer and Bart (i.e. watching When Buildings Collapse on FOX), Lisa enters a state of resignation, submitting her brain to “one last meal” at the Springsonian and the Jazz Club. It’s actually pretty damn emotional to see her try and fight, even going as far as to make a futile attempt to plea to the town of Springfield to increase their horizons. She knows it’s futile. She just needs to be heard.
Of course, there was the ending, where Homer brought in several of his relatives. It rotates between hysterical and heartbreaking, depending on what mood you’re in. The context of Lisa’s worst fears being confirmed truly contrasts with Homer’s relatives describing their careers as “I step in front of cars and sue the drivers” and “Jug Band Manager”. It’s truly fantastic.
Then the real ending happened, and I wanted to chuck my DVD out.
You see, Homer only brought in the Simpson men: the women are fantastic successes. Why? Well, apparently, it’s genetic: the “Simpson Gene” is apparently only carried on the Y chromosome – thus, only men are affected.
Translated: Simpson men are damned to be idiots, while women? Raging successes.
Let’s ignore that Herb Powell was a raving business success, who was only failed by the American buyer, who wanted everything in a car, yet wanted the design to take few risks (and to not have it cost $82,000). Let’s ignore that Abe is a fantastic military strategist, who is held back by his senility and his desire for a more active life getting the better of him. Let’s ignore that Homer has flashes of great intelligence, only held back by a weak upbringing and years of alcohol consumption. Let’s even ignore that Bart could be fantastic at anything– he merely has a short attention span, and maybe some other learning disability. Nope, now all Simpson men are just idiots.
Yup, this is apparently a happy ending. Why? Lisa was validated.
Look, I’ll get this off my chest right here and now: I am pretty pro-feminist (and yes, I am a male). I support equality of the sexes, I am in full support of the advancement of women’s rights, the objectification of women or the reduction of them into mere tools drives me up the wall, I feel that America (and to only a slightly lesser extent, the rest of the world) has quite a way to go when it comes to neutralizing sexism and objectification of women, and I feel that there is a dearth of well-written characters who are also female.
That being said, in my opinion, this ending is less a testament to feminism and more outright misandristic. Basically, Homer and Bart are openly told that, because they are male, they are basically damned to failure. Yet, this is a happy ending. Why? Well, Lisa can solve the damn puzzle.
I’m just hoping that the scientist that told Lisa about the truth about the gene was just lying to save Lisa’s sanity. Even then, the fact that the men are presented as idiots yet the women are presented as successes still comes off as a bit sexist, eh?
It’s a sign of things to come: later seasons of The Simpsons have had troubling gender-related politics, trying to present itself as a feminist, progressive show, when in reality, creating female characters that were little more than props or satellites for other characters.
I don’t really know what to think about the main plot. As good as most of it was, the ending just threw me. Even the very last two lines in the episode can’t really save the ending for me. It’s a major dent in the quality of the episode.
Oh, and Jasper gets trapped in a Kwik-E-Mart freezer, and Apu and Sanjay turn the mart into a tourist trap. It’s a pretty good subplot.
- This is the last episode not produced by either Mike Scully or Al Jean in some form (until Season 22-ish), and the second to last one for four years to not have Scully at the helm. Eh, can’t always end on a high note.
- This episode was also written by Ned Goldreyer. He did some work on the UPN’s adaptation of Dilbert, one of the most underrated animated sitcoms of all time.
- Give Dan Castellaneta credit: the fact that he can do all of the voices of the male Simpsons? No wonder why he’s getting about $300,000 a year as of late!
- Oh, and I apologise for the long hiatus/vacation. For some reason, I just couldn’t motivate myself to put something down on paper… that, and there was that Simpsons marathon on FXX.
- Also, Gravity Falls will be back in September. I might be able to put down a few more Scullyfied Simpsons episodes… or, I might return to Red Dwarf. Maybe.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 1
Zaniness Factor 1.5. Having an old guy survive a freezer? Eh, not stupid.
Favorite Scene: Lisa’s plea to the town of Springfield really shows the power of the writing this show once possessed. It’s gut-wrenching, funny, awesome… it’s just sublime.
Least Favorite Scene: The ending, though, just left an awkward taste in my mouth.