This season has squashed the characters into caricatures of themselves, and nobody has suffered that worse than Lisa; the writers know she’s supposed to be principled and idealistic, but they often fail to forget what those principles actually are, and they struggle to live up to the sense of empathy she’s shown up until now. On the other hand, they’ve still got a firm grasp on how it feels to be a kid, and so we get this surprisingly great episode that covers an aspect of Lisa that her fans tend to love: her kidness. This is the story of a child who overestimates her maturity and finds herself in over her head, and it’s endearing to see Lisa putting her full but childlike intelligence into solving her problem. Her excitedly talking to strangers while waiting for the bus is both the kind of thing I remember from my childhood and something I recognise in kids I know today, and Moe’s quick and pragmatic escape from her is really funny having been on that side of it. This is another old-fashioned Simpsons theme finding new life – it’s an idealistic conception of the world colliding with reality, except it’s a child’s conception of adulthood. What’s nice is that it’s not even actively cruel to Lisa; everything she does makes sense and seems like the right decision, she just made one simple mistake and doesn’t have the necessary means to correct it on her own. It also helps that her motivation is sympathetic and very-Lisa like in the pursuit of knowledge.
The flipside is that we also get a look into Homer’s status as a bumbling dad. Lisa’s manipulation of a bus ride out of him is a classic bit of Dad logic, very reminiscent of one of my favourite exchanges on the show; Homer’s falling for Lisa’s trick has a clear internal logic that makes sense, it’s just one of the premises was wrong. Despite setting the plot in motion with idiocy, I find Homer highly sympathetic throughout – he’s practically in a blind panic the whole time he’s searching for Lisa. I’m not a father but I am someone who tolerates annoying children who’ve attached themselves to me, and I felt slightly different watching a guy terrified for the safety of his kid than I used to. I also enjoy that the episode ends on a note of showing what Homer brings to his relationship with his daughter, injecting a larger-than-life joy and willingness to aim higher than Lisa would generally be willing to. Of course, if you look at it literally, he’s broken into a museum, but I can see Lisa taking his larger point about being willing to take risks, recognising that she got to see something beautiful because of it, and taking that thought somewhere slightly less illegal and dangerous.
Chalkboard Gag: I am not the new Dalai Lama.
Couch Gag: The family goes to sit down, but Nelson pulls the couch out from under them and laughs.
This episode was written by Brian Scully and directed by Pete Michels. Mike Scully came up with the idea based on an incident from his childhood. The animators had to draw up a special mouth chart for Bart’s joke teeth. Scully used to write jokes for Yakov Smirnoff, so he called him up for help translating Russian signs. This episode contains the last appearance of Lionel Hutz, who appears at the bus stop but doesn’t speak, and would be retired given the terrible death of Phil Hartman.
I don’t go much into Bart’s story this episode, but he does hit the right balance of being dickish without being unbearable, which the show would not always balance, and his analysis of being out in the world on a weekday as a kid rings true. This also has a really great take on Marge (“That’s the kind of faucet I want for your bathroom!”). I got a real laugh out of ‘impotence powder’ showing up in the background. The Klav Kahlash guy comes back for a cameo. You can actually see the cherrypicker in the scene before Homer even buys the balloons. Homer getting caught in the bridge is a, uh, bridge too far for me in terms of slapstick, even if him wiggling in the air is really funny. The ending of Homer and Lisa singing the Old Spice song is a classic example of the show’s particular brand of sweetness.
Iconic Moments: 2. “Don’t make me tap the sign.” | “I’m not normally a praying man, but if you’re up there, please save me, Superman!”