There are several points that fans consider the ‘true’ finale of The Simpsons, and this is one of them. Partly it’s because after this point many consider the show to lose its consistency (which I understand even as I disagree, especially because there are at least eight iconically great episodes left, one of which is my favourite episode of the show ever), and partly it’s because this has some of the deepest emotional content and feels like a massive step forward for little Lisa, to the point of feeling like the conclusion of her character arc. I’ve tracked the relationship between her and Homer as I’ve gone along, but in retrospect, there was another arc I was missing: the development of her relationship with the whole world. All the way back in “Moaning Lisa”, she was defined as an outsider – someone who saw the world her own way, and that episode concluded with Marge telling her to own that. Since then, she’s done exactly that, but the struggle of standing alone is that you’ll often stand lonely; whether she’s gone up against America or Springfield or just her father, she’s had to go it alone. Many of her episodes have been about her coming to some kind of peace with being alone; “Lisa’s Substitute” gave her some kind of faith that following her own path would lead her the right direction. So when she says “I’ve been myself for eight years and it hasn’t worked!”, we get where she’s coming from; like every child, she’s been given a chance to start over and find a new version of herself that has everything she ever learned but without any of the baggage of expectation. And, like, everyone who has ever changed themselves, she’s found old habits die hard, and just as Mr Bergstrom told her, the fact that she’s Lisa Simpson has seen her through; we can often think the rut we’re stuck in is going to last forever and who people see us as now is who we’ll be forever, but it can often be that a simple change in context can give us a fresh perspective on what was always there.
I’m gonna back down from the big thoughts and look at how goddamned funny this episode is; I went into it remembering it as a classic example of Homer being pushed to the background (and consequently becoming funnier), but in actuality, Homer gets a whole scattering of comic scenes. They don’t add up into a single plot per se, but then that feels right for Homer and especially Homer on vacation, where he’s operating on low stakes and fewer consequences than normal (dads in the audience: how accurate is that, emotionally if not literally?). And despite the heavy emotional content, the whole story is filled with comic lines and situations. One that tickles me is Bart signing autographs in people’s yearbooks like he’s a celebrity at a convention, with Milhouse acting as his assistant and Skinner inexplicably lining up for it; it’s a satirical exaggeration of how it feels to watch popular kids affirming each other, it advances the plot both in that it drives Lisa to what she does for the rest of the story and in how it feeds into Bart’s actions in the last act, and it’s, you know, really funny (unearned smugness is a cheap way to make me laugh and Bart rides it as hard as he can). I think the most interesting source of comedy here is the fact that the Simpsons are staying at the Flanders holiday home; it feels like the biggest injection of newness because it’s the biggest nice thing Ned has done for Homer (making Homer’s ‘can we hurry this up?’ gesture in the initial conversation even funnier), so the Flanders clan cast a shadow over the whole thing; we have both Homer taking advantage of Ned’s kindness to a level we’ve never seen before and we have things like the notes he leaves behind (“Well, duh, Ned. With what?”).
What’s interesting, too, is the next level of Simpson conflict. Obviously, there’s the big thing between Bart and Lisa; one of the defining aspects of a sibling relationship where you’re barely two years away from each other in age is a sense of fairness, and usually that means you try and get something they have, but in this case, Bart tries to take away what Lisa has, and it’s a cruel and pointless and sad act that comes entirely from Bart’s conception of the world as opposed to any real sense of fairness. I’m also interested in a rare moment of Lisa/Marge conflict and the even rarer case of a Marge conflict that lives up to her buttoned-down rut-heavy nature. Any Lisa/Marge conflict has usually revolved around the fact that Lisa is generally progressive and Marge is generally conservative, temperamentally if not politically. It doesn’t necessarily make her actions wrong – and let’s face it, in the long run, Lisa would come back to Marge in some fashion – but Lisa’s actions mean she’s leaving her mother behind, and her mother is generally lonely as it is. Lisa is tearing down establishes rules about herself, and Marge is someone who thrives under established rules. I’m thinking – part of the reason this story works so well is specifically because Lisa is a child, not yet old enough to have gone through several life phases and seen the way human beings can change their situation without changing who they are (I was struck by this episode lining up with me making some radical changes in order to enter the next chapter of my life, and it’s the third time I’ve done this so this felt pertinent). Marge is seeing, in her own limited way, the parent’s view of this, seeing their child go through a new life stage and having to deal with that.
Chalkboard Gag: N/A
Couch Gag: The couch prints out a picture of the family like a fax machine
This episode was written by Dan Greany and directed by Mark Kirkland. The Flanders holiday home is based on Josh Weinstein’s parents’ beach house in New Hampshire, and many of the writers grew up in Cape Cod, so Little Pwagmattasquarmsettport is based on it. Christina Ricci guest stars as Erin, and she recorded all her lines over the phone – there must be pretty good sound work going on, because she doesn’t sound like she’s over the phone at all.
Very few lines convey the parent-child relationship like “Bring money!”. There’s a meta joke when Lisa steals Bart’s old catchphrase and Marge remarks “You haven’t said that for four years!”, and Krusty-O’s make another appearance. It didn’t quite make my biggest laugh, but I must draw attention to “Oh jeez, he actually wrote ‘diddly’!”
The title is a parody of the film Summer Of ‘42. Lisa daydreams about Pippi Longstocking, the New Yorker’s mascot Eustace Tilley, and Alice and the Mad Hatter from Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland. Milhouse compares Lisa’s new wardrobe to the title character from Blossom. TeeJay’s ZayMart is a parody of both Zayre and TJ Maxx. Homer recreates a scene from American Graffiti. Mystery Date is a real board game that Weinstein played as a kid. “All Summer Long” by the Beach Boys plays over the credits.
Iconic Moments: 4. “Which kind of sprinkler do you like?” is used in Simpsons shitposting a lot. | “Girls, Lisa, boys kiss girls.” | “You got the dud!” is another that gets used in shitposting, presumably because people were so tickled by Homer’s slow smile. | “I don’t know what you’ve got planned for tonight Homer, but count me out!”