105. Lisa’s Rival

(originally aired September 11, 1994)
Here’s another episode with a fairly simple, standard story, but plays out in a very natural way. With not many friends and a hectic home life, all Lisa really has is her reputation at school for being the overachieving brain, a title she holds quite dear to her. Enter Alison Taylor, a girl one year younger than Lisa, but is smarter, sharper and a better saxophone player. Despite her level of intelligence and compassion, I like how Lisa has her own foibles; she and Allison could have formed a great friendship right away, but instead she becomes instantly threatened by this girl who has horned in on her territory, seemingly taking away everything that made her feel special. She develops a quiet loathing of this innocent girl; upon witnessing Allison get harassed by some bullying bitches, Lisa laments, “That used to be me in that mud puddle.”

To pad out our Lisa story is some crazy Homer antics, of course, where he ransacks the goods of a jackknifed sugar truck, hoping to sell it off for a profit. This is Homer at his most insane, which fluctuates from hilarious to reminiscent of Jerkass Retarded Homer of later years. His logic regarding his right to take the sugar (“Read your town charter, boy. ‘If foodstuff should touch the ground, said foodstuff shall be turned over to the village idiot.’ Since I don’t see him around…start shoveling!”) and his bulletproof marketing strategy (labeling the nails and broken glass within the product as “prizes”) is classic Homer thinking. But on the whole the scheme just feels so poorly thought out, even for Homer. When Marge urges him to stop, we get another rambling monologue similar to his movie quoting in “Successful Marriage,” only saved in that this one’s a bit funnier and spectacular animation by David Silverman. Maybe it would make more sense if more time were spent on it… or maybe not. Whatever.

Bart acts at the devil on Lisa’s shoulder to use underhanded tactics to detriment Allison, until she eventually breaks and accepts his brother’s help. The ending with the diorama displays, and Lisa living out her own version of The Telltale Heart is very satisfying, and a suitable conclusion to the story. In the end, Lisa and Allison are friends, but of course since the latter is voiced by guest star Winona Ryder, we’d never hear from her again. This episode is also greatly responsible for popularizing Ralph, as we get two landmark lines from him in the show: “I bent my Wookie” and “My cat’s breath smells like cat food.” The ending of Lisa and Allison walking arms locked with Ralph is really sweet.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The opening sets up how Lisa’s life is her intelligence and her talent, showing the rest of the family a bit perturbed at her playing her sax in the house. Bart ends up botching his prank call to Skinner (“Well, as a matter of fact, my refrigerator wasn’t running. You’ve spared me quite a bit of spoilage: thank you, anonymous young man,”) and Homer destroys Marge’s camera hammering it with a drill (“I’m going to need a bigger drill.”) The best bit is Marge’s daydreams of her ridiculous romance novel, of her in the strong arms of a tanned, muscular fellow of questionable sexuality (Marge asks if the earring in his right ear means he’s a pirate. The man noncommittally responds, “Kinda.”) She’s jolted back to reality by her daughter’s music, giving a great Freudian slip (“Lisa, stop blowing my sex. I mean, stop blowing your sax, your sax!”) I also like the somewhat sad look into her domestic life, in that she admits to sacrificing a perfectly good camera for Homer to destroy in order to get some quiet time.
– Nice brief appearance by Hans Moleman, driver of the sugar truck, who Homer offers to guard the shipment while he finds a pay phone (“If only this sugar were as sweet as you, sir.”) Once he’s gone, Homer wastes no time to start shoveling (“We’ve hit the jackpot here! White gold, Texas tea … sweetener!”)
– I love Lisa confronting her mother about why she was never moved up a grade, insinuating that she could have been a bit “nicer” to Principal Skinner. The read and timing of Marge’s response is fabulous: “Lisa! …I am nice.” There’s so many possible reads for this… maybe it’s just my filthy filthy mind, but I think “nicer” implies “favors.” As said from an eight-year-old girl. Makes perfect sense. Not really. Whatever, the scene’s still hilarious.
– The first act break is hysterical, with the fake-out, and Largo’s self-awareness (“Alison got first chair, and believe me, this is not a dream!”)
– Great bit with Bart using a tape recorder to make note of future pranks, then his evil cackle. Then stop. Then record, and finishes off the cackle. I also forgot this episode had the FBI chasing Milhouse, which is one of the best things of the entire series. Milhouse’s “Oh no, not again!” implying this has happened to him multiple times, and then the call-back of him in The Fugitive jumping off the waterfall (“Aaaaaaaaah!! …my glasses!”)
– Lisa’s daydream assuring there’s no shame in being second is great, with her in a band with other famous second bananas, who proceed to boo them immediately. Lisa awakes stating the obvious: “Why would they come to our concert just the boo us?”
– I love the extremely patronizing nature of Allison’s father, when Lisa fails to play along with their complicated anagram game, he dumbs it down a shade and gives her a ball to bounce.
– Love how Homer’s paranoia of sugar thieves ends up being valid when he catches a right British fellow stealing some for his tea (“I nicked it when you let your guard down for that split second, and I’d do it again.”) Also great is his spit take when the pile melts in the rain.
– The kids’ dioramas are great: Nelson’s literal take on The Grapes of Wrath (“Yes, very good wrath,”) Uter’s uter shame of his devouring of his rendition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (“I begged you to look at mine first… I begged you!”) And of course there’s Ralph’s box full of unopened Star Wars action figures (“What’s a diorama?”) Skinner geeks out, and announces him the winner.
– I like how the end really ramps things up to a ridiculous level. It’s pretty clear Allison didn’t make the fake diorama and seems very distraught and shocked at it, but Skinner doesn’t hold back in sternly scolding her about it. Then when the real diorama is revealed, Skinner is completely unmoved. Then we think Lisa may win, but he’s equally as unmoved. Both of their displays are incredibly detailed and proficient for frigging second graders, and he gives them such cold dismissals. For some reason I find Asshole Skinner to be very amusing.

10 thoughts on “105. Lisa’s Rival

  1. Hey, maybe you can clarify something for me. Why does the British chap do a spit take after the sugar melts? It doesn’t make the sugar he already put in his tea any different. It puzzled me as a lad and continues to this day.

    1. I always thought it was just his shock that his sugar supply was gone. He was enjoying his tea, thought he would nick a bit more sugar, but… whaaaaat, it’s gone!

  2. I had always assumed that it was in disgust at Homer’s undignified reaction to losing his sugar – what an outrageous subplot this was!

  3. You know, I think this episode shows the difference between the classic episodes and later episodes. In recent years, the sugar story would have been Act 1- Homer finds a bunch of sugar, guards it, and gets $2000. Act two would have involved him spending the money on a cow and then attempting to start a dairy farm right there in his backyard and then finally trading it for some magic beans. In act 3, the beans turn into a beanstalk which destroys the town’s plumbing, resulting in an angry mob chasing him up the beanstalk.

  4. I think Mike is too much biased to Homer because of what he would became in Zombie Simpsons, and dont watch it for who he is normally. The subplot in this episode is spectacular, and it has no signs of Zombie Homer. I mean Homer is just child-like exuberant about this new stupid finding of free sugar, to the point that his plan make absolutely no-sense as Marge point out, telling him that he would have earned more at work. Thats classic Homer. The problem exists when those things happens in every episode; but in classic years, its perfectly balanced.

  5. This is one of my all-time favorite episodes. I love Lisa’s response in the anagram game, “Jeremy’s..iron…,” and her insanity after hiding Allison’s diorama. “Argh! It’s the beating of the hideous heart!!!! I mean, um, I think I hear something.”

    Asshole Skinner is great, i love the random Milhouse on the run from the FBI subplot, and Ralph gets his best appearance since the Valentine’s Day episode.

  6. There is so much going on in this episode it is hard to talk about everything.

    First off, the Milhouse plot is just down right hysterical. I always laugh my ass off at it, especially when you first hear, “NOT AGAIN!” The Fugitive tunnel scene was funny even before I saw The Fugitive.

    I disagree with you Mike on the Homer plot, I think it is spectacular. It’s funny and feels like something Homer would do. I don’t see any Jerkass Homer in it at all. In fact, I don’t see any Jerkass Homer in any episodes from the first 8 seasons. Not even in “Homer’s Enemy.” The first episode I’d say that has Jerkass Homer is “Kidney Trouble.” My favorite moment though is that the dudes think Homer is some criminal mastermind and he doesn’t even understand what they are talking about.

    Anyway, let’s get to the heart of the story, Lisa. Like everything else, it is wonderful. Lisa feeling insecure is so funny and child-like. Hell, it is nice to see Lisa being a kid. I still loved it from the episode last season when she kept laughing at Skinner and Willie’s good cop/bad copy routine. It’s pretty cool that first we have a Hitchcock parody and now an Edgar Allan Poe one as the next episode. Of course, we also get another Hitchcock moment two episodes from now.

    As for Skinner, I love how enthusiastic he is at the start of the judging and then by the time he gets to Lisa he has lost all interest. Very funny.

  7. To be honest, I don’t really understand how you can love Asshole Skinner and Milhouse literally being pursued by the FBI, but think Homer’s obviously ridiculous sugar scheme (does he even have one? Or does he just like having a huge mound of it all to himself?) is a bridge too far.

  8. I know I keep saying it, but here we have another solid episode. It’s a pretty fun examination of Lisa’s intelligence and how some people are better than her. I kind of wish Allison became a recurring character, but after this episode she kind of disappeared. It’s possible she’s appeared since, but I can’t recall any times off the top of my head.

    Here we get the part where I mention funny moments, and this episode has quite a few: Bart’s botched prank call, “stop blowing my sex”, the dream fake-out, the audience coming to the concert just to boo them, Jeremy’s Iron, Ralph winning at the end… I could go on, but yeah. And this isn’t even mentioning the subplot with Homer’s sugar. I love how the bees all migrate to it, and the rain melts it all away later. A pretty fine episode overall.

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