The Simpsons, Season Four, Episode Four, “Lisa The Beauty Queen”

There are two things (which it can be) that I’ve been preoccupied with in this show: the ever increasing energy of the jokes due to an increased pacing, and the way it builds on old ideas as it moves forward. Those two things come together in this episode to give us one of my favourite Lisa/Homer episodes. We saw in “Lisa’s Pony” how Homer was willing to make a tremendous sacrifice to make Lisa happy, and how she could understand and return that sacrifice; this episode conveys that same story just within the first act and builds on it. Homer wins a blimp ride in a school fair, Homer sees Lisa feeling miserable about her appearance, Homer sells his ticket to enter Lisa in a beauty pageant. A common criticism of TV comedies from before the 00’s is how characters would seem to learn the same lessons over and over; The Simpsons neither fully escapes it nor fully delves into full-on Community-style character development, but it does build on what we already know to create, if not a sense of progression then at least NOT a sense of repetition.

(I can also see, looking forward, how the show would build on this further – “Lisa The Iconoclast” starts where this episode finishes the same way this starts where “Lisa’s Pony” finishes.)

This also means we get straight to one of my favourite things in fiction: imagery and dialogue that’s equal parts emotionally moving and absurd. Only Homer could say “Well, if I could gouge out somebody else’s eyes and shove them into my sockets, I would, but to me she’s beautiful!” and have it actually feel sweet (again, this partially works because we’ve already seen he’s sincere), and the image of him mournfully singing “Blimpy Boy” while playing with a pickle is, you know, funny, but also what gives the story its emotional stakes; we want Lisa to win, because we’ve seen what it cost to get her there.

The pageant itself drops a lot of the emotion (as if to reflect this, Homer drops out of the story nearly entirely for this section) to give way to a satire of pageants in particular (“When I grow up, I wanna be a sweetie pie!”) and the entertainment industry in general. One of my pet preoccupations is the idea of professionalism, and the pageant gets a lot of great cynical laughs out of industrialising entertainment – Krusty’s particular brand of half-assed professionalism, capable of rushing in at the last second and belting out his lines with complete sincerity, is always great, but I also love two entrants we see who talk like two fortysomething heavy smokers and feed Lisa (and us) exposition on Amber Dempsey.

The show manages to have it not just both ways but many, many convoluted ways when it comes to resolving the plot – Lisa ends up runner-up, only for Amber to get struck by lightning, forcing Lisa to step up and take her place; this feels like a way to get Lisa into the role of pageant queen without losing its cynicism or feeling like too much of a cheat. Even if it didn’t lead into the real meat of the second half, I would love it just for the split-second image we get of Lisa with her hand on a bible, being sworn into the role like a US President. But it’s here that Lisa’s passionate idealism comes to the fore; all along, the pageant was an advertisement for Laramie cigarettes, and Lisa finds herself unable to use her role for anything other than activism. This drives the people in power to take her out, and it turns out Homer made a simple mistake all the way back when he wrote her application.

This should be a half-assed ending, and it kind of is, but the final scene between Homer and Lisa makes it work for me. What matters to Lisa isn’t how she looks, but who she is inside, and Homer’s actions are what lead to her finding out she’s a pretty good person. Homer’s problem with Lisa has always been never fully understanding her, but what this episode shows is maybe he doesn’t have to to love her, and to be a positive force in her life.

Chalkboard Gag: I will not prescribe medication.
Couch Gag: The family accidentally run off the side of the frame.

This episode was written by Jeff Martin and directed by Mark Kirkland. Martin was assigned this episode on the assumption he would fill it with songs again. The caricature incident was inspired by an experience from his own life. Bob Hope cameos acting and looking like his Vietnam War-era self.

Structurally, this episode feels like the riff-heavy nature of “Homer At The Bat” with a sincere emotional core flowing through it, and a lot of the riffs are taken up by Bart. This gives us a wide scope of Bart jokes – my favourite is his Three Card Monte grift at the school fair, but we also have him running away with a bit of Homer’s advice, and another case of him acting effeminate in high heels.

Skinner takes out some Disney executives like he’s Mick Dundee in Crocodile Dundee (“Copyright expired.”). Bob Hope’s cameo parodies a scene from Apocalypse Now. The caricature artist also drew Darth Vader, and one of Lisa’s haircuts is like Princess Leia. Mr T, Ronald Reagan, and Dr Ruth are all heads on spikes in a wax museum. Laramie’s old mascot is a parody of Joe Camel. “Blimpy Boy” is a parody of “Georgy Girl”. The crash of the Duff Blimp is a parody of the Hindenberg disaster (too soon!). Lisa’s inauguration into pageant queen is a reference to a famous photo of Lyndon B Johnson being sworn in after the assassination of JFK.

First Appearances: “I heartily endorse this event or product.”. Krusty being a Republican.
Biggest Laugh: