The Simpsons, Season Three, Episode Fourteen, “Lisa The Greek”

“Money comes and money goes, but what I have with my daughter could go on for eight more years!”

It’s always so frustrating when you write pages and pages of analysis on a TV show and then it goes and sums itself all up in one line. Right here, the show rejects materialism in favour of family while still recognising the messy frustrating complexities of life; there’s only so much you can get so you’d better hold onto what you can. Of course, the show finds new ground to explore within it – we’ve seen Homer having to reach out to his children before, but this is the first case we’ve had of his kids trying to reach out to him. Lisa begins the episode frustrated that her dad never shows an interest in her things, so Marge suggests she show interest in his things, and so she gets pulled into the world of American football.

(I’ve spoken before about wondering if certain episodes will hit harder if/when I become a father; I happened to watch this particular episode at a time when I’m trying to work out my relationship with my dad the way Lisa is here, which made it hit a little, uh, harder)

Lisa’s gift for numbers and systems turns out to make her well-suited to predicting football winners, which Homer takes advantage of in order to make money gambling. I love the kind of middle ground the two establish this episode; Lisa is into this to bond with her dad, and the money is just a bonus, while Homer is in this for the money and the bond is a bonus. Of course, that comes crashing down when football season ends and Lisa discovers the divide between them. If I take any kind of moral guidance from this, it’s the necessity of honesty in any relationship; presumably, if both had been clear about what they were getting out of football together, they could have avoided the emotional fallout.

The only way this episode doesn’t work for me from a storytelling standpoint is the climax. Lisa tells him that if Washington wins, she still loves him, and if Denver wins, she doesn’t. I get what they were going for thematically, with Homer’s gambling coming back on him, and it is pretty tense, but it means the solution is entirely out of his hands and he and Lisa don’t earn their victory together – though the final shot of the two of them climbing a mountain together almost makes up for it.

Floating around those two are Marge and Bart, and we get some great jokes out of them. Marge’s squarishness really works to counteract her nagging comic foil status in the main plot; she’s wise enough to speak up against Homer’s gambling and nudge Lisa to him, but not enough to see how tacky Bart’s new clothes are, or that her son is getting bullied – and her role as the smarter parent gets one really great joke when she promises she will get mad about whatever scheme Homer’s cooked up. For his part, Bart also gets a two great jokes in a row with “Come on, snipers, where are you?” immediately followed by “You-hate-Dad is up by a touchdown”.

Floating around the episode is the weakness of an Australian nerd writing these essays: satire of American football. Being Australian means I have a moral obligation to not give a shit about gridiron, which is easy because because I don’t give a shit about sport in general. That said, while the specifics fly over my head, I can see the satirical intent of the episode: overblown sportscasters who use a lot of flash to hide very little substance. Something I did pick up though was part of the reason the show’s takes on pop culture stand the test of time – the character’s reactions. The family never just sits and watches TV, it always factors into their decisions, and even when it doesn’t, the characters react in ways oh-so-specific to them, such as Homer enthusiastically believing anything and everything he sees on TV.

Chalkboard Gag: N/A
Couch Gag: The family sit, only for Homer to pull out the dog from under his butt.

This episode was written by Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky, and directed by Rich Moore. The episode was inspired by how many Simpsons staff members were enthusiastic football gamblers. Jay Kogen, Al Jean, and Rich Moore all observed that they loved working on Lisa/Homer episodes the most, basically for the same reasons I laid out why I love watching them – they have the biggest gulf between them and thus a greater emotional depth.

Obviously, this episode contains many references to the NFL and the Superb Owl; it correctly predicted that Washington would win. When Lisa researched football, she finds an entry on Phyllis George. A halftime ad parodies the Bud Bowl advertisement. The title is a reference to Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder. Troy McClure appears, advertising his new show that is a clear ripoff of The Odd Couple with the twist that one’s a retired cop and one’s a retired criminal. Homer buys Marge a perfume by Meryl Streep that’s called Versatility.

We get the point that Ralph must have become Ralph: “When the doctor said I didn’t have worms anymore, that was the happiest day of my life.” Classic Miss Hoover response too: “Thank you, Ralph, very graphic.”

The Frenchmen from “Crepes Of Wrath” appear, enjoying Jerry Lewis.

First Appearances: Homer’s heart troubles. By this point, it must have been obvious what Homer’s lifestyle would do to his body; the groundwork is being laid, intentionally or otherwise, for “Homer’s Triple Bypass”.
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