37. Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington

(originally aired September 26, 1991)
“Crepes of Wrath” was the first instance that first explored the potential of a Simpson-ized universe, but here we have our first of many “The Simpsons are going to [blank]!” episodes, wherein the family travels to another state or country and wacky hijinks ensue. Episodes like these are ripe with plenty to mock and parody, and no stone goes unturned. Our show begins rather innocuously though, as Homer discovers the magic of reading… well, sort of. He becomes enamored by Reader’s Digest… or rather it’s legally distinguishable equivalent Reading Digest. The actual magazine is big on bite-sized, low-impact stories and factoids, so it’s perfect that a slovenly slob like Homer would take a vested interest in it. As he puts it, it’s the ultimate magazine: “They take hundreds of magazines, filter out the crap, and leave you with something that fits right in your front pocket.”

In said magazine, Homer reads of an essay-writing contest with an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington D.C., but bemoans that it’s just for children and tosses it in the trash. The entire first act has been nothing but him fawning over the magazine, and he throws it away without a second thought, but hey, that’s Homer. Lisa, however, takes interest, and after some outdoor inspiration, writes an impassioned speech about the origins of democracy. Her paper is selected for the finals, and the Simpsons are going to D.C.! The second act is a long string of bits featuring the family visiting the White House, the Smithsonian, the Treasury building, and other places. There are a lot of great moments, like Homer yelling “Boo!” at the IRS building (with a disgruntled employee shooting back, “Oh boo yourself!” and Marge giggling about the Washington Monument. However, between antics in the hotel room and this stuff, it felt like a bit too much padding aside from the Lisa story. But this is a minor gripe.

Lisa’s perceptions are shattered upon witnessing corrupt congressman Bob Arnold accept a bribe for a logging permit of Springfield Forest, and angrily scribes a new essay, exposing the wrong-doing she witnessed. Before that, we get the best scene in the show; Lisa seeks guidance from the statue of Lincoln, but when her questions are drowned out by a crowd of people asking their own, she goes to Thomas Jefferson instead, who complains that no one ever visits him for guidance (“I never did anything important. Just the Declaration of Independence! The Louisiana Purchase! The dumbwaiter!”) In the first of a long line of disappointments, Lisa loses the contest, but we get a happy ending anyway in the most sneering possible. Due to an onlooker’s phone call to a senator (“A little girl is losing faith in democracy!”), the US government kicks into overdrive, exposing and impeaching the corrupt congressman in a matter of a few hours. We even get a look at President H.W. Bush, signing a bill that he claims will make his bosses very happy: all 250 million of them. It’s an ending that both honors America, but is completely stewed in snark that it cannot be taken seriously. But what a great end it is.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The cartoon in the Reading Digest is perfect: it’s exactly the kind of one-panel poorly drawn piece of crap that you’d see in one of those magazines. That leads to the great bit where Homer tells Marge, “Cartoons don’t have any deep meaning. They’re just stupid drawings that give you a cheap laugh.” And immediately stands up, revealing his butt crack.
– There’s some more good stuff with the magazine: Homer reading the explorer story with the sea lion, not knowing whether the author was killed or not, and his late night attempt to utilize the Seven Ways to Spice Up Your Marriage: “Marge, you have a nice body. And if you’d like to see me in a costume, you have only to ask.”
– Good stuff at the Veterans of Popular Wars (great name of course) with Nelson’s tirade of a speech, the disgruntled father (“We the purple? What the hell was that?!”), awarding Lisa five extra points after seeing the lower than low mental capacity of her father, and the immortal act closing line “Who would have guessed reading and writing would pay off!”
– “I call first bedsies!” is something I say a lot, re-appropriated to suit the situation, like “first seatsies.”
– I love the lobbyist’s graphics displaying a dark and dangerous forest filled with horrible trees, and the afterward of the animals loving having a field of tree stumps on which they can have tea and crumpets.
– The fantasy sequence on the steps of Congress is done in a great style, with muted colors and slight cross-hatching. It’s a great piece of animation.
– I really like Lisa’s new title, “Cesspool on the Potomac,” and Bart’s chants of encouragement: “Cesspool! Cesspool! Cesspool!”

3 thoughts on “37. Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington

  1. Wonderful episode. In these classic seasons(especially first 3) you can really feel how The Simpsons were a family with many problems but with so much strength too; I mean, they are so believable; they are what we all are: underappreciated outcasts who do their best in an absurd unfair society.
    Anyway, the ending with the “A little girl is losing faith in democracy!”is one of my favorite ever.

  2. I feel like this episode holds true even moreso today than it did back then. In fact, knowing where our country has gone recently makes the mockery this show did even more powerful.

    I love the bit when the judges think Lisa’s essay was too well thought out and then one of them talks to Homer, realizing that Lisa did do it all on her own. Well, there is a lot I love about this episode, but it’s not one I really think of when I think about my favorite episodes.

  3. Another episode I enjoy, with its great moments (I love the government freaking out because of one little girl). I still laugh every time I watch the scene where the contest judges think Lisa got help from Homer, only for them to quickly realize he couldn’t possibly have. I also love “cartoons don’t have any deep meaning.” A neat little episode, and the ending where Lisa doesn’t win genuinely shocked me the first time I watched it.

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