There was something that bothered me about this episode, and it took me a while to figure it out. Normally when I’m watching episodes for this blog it’s one and done (excluding the time it takes to get screen caps). This one got the first ever second watch, because I just couldn’t figure out what wasn’t sitting right.
Today’s episode is our first Lisa-centric episode, and that sure as hell wasn’t what threw me – if my bias towards the Simpson women hasn’t stood out already, I might as well make it clear now. Re-watching these episodes has shown me that I have a total bias towards Lisa and Marge. I’m not sure why it is (though a good friend suggested it might be that their characters are the most consistent throughout the show) but for whatever reason, their episodes are generally the ones I remember more. Not that I don’t love my fair share of Bart and Homer episodes, but the one I’ll remember forever – the episode where Lisa becomes a vegetarian – is just that, a Lisa episode. That one is my favorite and I grin like an idiot when I watch it every time, but I’m getting way, way ahead of myself. That’s seasons away, this episode is now.
I thought it might be that I didn’t consider this episode a ‘true’ Lisa episode – after the first watch, I thought it was more an episode about the family dynamic than one truly focused on her. The second run through dispelled that notion. It IS about the family dynamic, but it’s about how Lisa fits into and relates to that dynamic. Then I realized the problem. Six episodes in is our first Lisa episode, but it’s also our first episode with a running sub-plot featuring Homer and Bart. Our first episode that doesn’t focus on those two, and it still can’t be completely about anyone or anything else. They still step into the spotlight. It bothered me, but the more I thought about it, I realized that’s the point of this episode. But, I’ve wasted enough time. We need to dive in!
The Simpsons, Season 1 Episode 6 – Moaning Lisa.
We open our episode on Lisa in the bathroom, depressed as hell without a clear reason why. She goes through her day and can’t seem to catch a break: the cupcake that should have been hers goes to Homer, she’s berated in music for inserting a soulful, jazzy solo into My Country Tis of Thee, and she’s sent home with a disciplinary note after having been ‘too sad’ for Dodgeball. It’s at home that we see the subplot for this episode – Homer and Bart playing a boxing video game. Homer sucks, and he wants to get good enough to beat Bart. That’s the entire subplot. But like I said earlier, the subplot’s existence itself, along with one line said by Bart, illustrate this episode perfectly. When Marge tells Homer a note’s come home from school, the Simpson son’s immediate reaction is “I didn’t do it. Nobody saw me do it. There’s no way they can prove anything.” And right there is the crux of the episode. Even when it’s about Lisa, it’s not – it’s about Bart, it’s about Homer, it’s about something else. She’s the middle child, she’s feeling both a lack of attention and a lack of nurturing, and damn does it show.
Things come to a head after Homer yells at Lisa for playing her sax (his scapegoat for yet another Boxing loss to Bart). A despondent Lisa hears music in the distance and goes to investigate, leading to an impromptu jam session with local artist “Bleeding Gums” Murphy. The two connect before a worried Marge comes to collect Lisa. Things continue with no real improvement from Lisa, even after Bart makes the series second prank phone call (Jacques Strap this time) in an attempt to cheer her up. Marge gives Lisa terrible advice, telling her daughter to just smile, since it’s what’s on the outside that matters. Thankfully, almost immediately after, the family matriarch sees just how terrible this advice is and recants, validating Lisa’s feelings and telling her it’s okay to feel however she wants, her family will be there for her. Feeling loved and happy after some much needed attention, Lisa’s mood improves and the family takes an outing to see Bleeding Gums play (after interrupting and ruining Homer’s one chance at victory over Bart).
As depressing and serious as this episode gets at times, there are some fantastically funny bits sprinkled throughout, like the part where Bart and Lisa compete for Maggie’s love. Each tries to get the youngest Simpson to come to the one she loves the most – and Maggie’s ultimate choice is both fantastic and fitting for a household like The Simpsons.
There’s also a few visual gags I’m really a fan of. One I’m mad at myself for never noticing before is in the opening scene in the bathroom. Further adding to Lisa’s depression and the general downer atmosphere of the scene is the family toothpaste brand – the aptly named ‘Glum’. But even better than that is one of the things I truly enjoy about the video game subplot: the appearance of the boxers. I know it’s not exactly subtle, but sometimes it’s the little things in life that make you smile the most.
After mentioning that I thought the episode was mainly about the family dynamic at first, I’d be in the wrong not to at least talk about it here. If there’s one thing this episode did brilliantly from a storytelling perspective, it’s get across the general dynamic of The Simpsons. More than ever in this episode, we see that Homer just doesn’t get it. He means well, he really does! He tries to talk Lisa through her problems, but it’s just not a task he’s cut out for, and even when Marge tries to explain it, he mis-interprets it as “underwear problems”. With Bart, we see that caring side show it’s head again. Sure, he’s a trouble making hellion, but at the end of the day he does love his family (even if he staunchly refuses to say aloud that he loves his sister). Marge does her best to keep it all together, but she’s not perfect either: she doesn’t always have the right answer the first time around. And poor little Maggie, hugging the TV close, is turning out to be the product of this amazingly dysfunctional environment. It’s all Lisa can do to not get lost in the mix of this crazy family, and she struggles to make her mark on the world as the artistic middle child she is, even if it gets disheartening when it seems like no one cares. Still, at the end of the day they’re a family, and they do act like it. Sometimes.
I could go on and on, but I feel like it’s time to cut it here. I will, however, leave you with the lyrics of the song Lisa improvises for Bleeding Gums Murphy.
I got a bratty brother
He bugs me everyday
And this morning my own mother
She gave my last cupcake away
My dad acts like he belongs
He belongs in the zoo
I’m the saddest kid
In grade number two.