Episode 15 - I Love Lisa
29 June 2011
Synopsis: It's Valentines Day and Lisa's class exchange cards. No one has given one to hopeless Ralph Wiggum and so Lisa does. He is so thrilled with this that he walks her home and continues to pursue her. Krusty is having his 29th anniversary special and Ralph gets tickets from his Dad (Chief Wiggum) and takes Lisa. Ralph ends up professing his love live on the special and Lisa rejects him. Chief Wiggum also pulled strings to get Ralph cast as George Washington opposite Lisa in a school production. On the night of the show Ralph's emotions fuel a tremendous performance and he and Lisa become friends.
The Good: This was a wonderful episode. It's such a sweet story and the writers executed it perfectly drawing sympathy to all those involved and forever making Ralph Wiggum a lovable character.
The structure of the story was so good that at each stage the writers took you on the emotional journey they intended. We start with Valentines Day as our setting and the useless KBBL DJ's accidentally play "Monster Mash" instead of something more appropriate. Then we get a reminder of Ralph's remedial qualities so that he is entirely sympathetic and pitiable when he gets no valentines cards. Lisa looks kind and sweet for giving him a card and then slowly his interest in her escalates. The escalation was necessary to show us Lisa's fear of being labelled Ralph's girlfriend so that when he finally said the words she was dreading we would understand why she snapped so cruelly. That also plays into Ralph's hopelessness, Lisa doesn't like the thought of the world looking at her as being on his level. I loved the cut from us watching the Special to Bart replaying the event for Lisa at home so she could see how much she hurt Ralph.
Both the school play and the Krusty special were woven into the plot early so that their roles in the story would feel organic. The choice of Chief Wiggum as Ralph's father (made for this episode) worked out perfectly as well. It meant the Chief could finally play a larger role as a lazy, incompetent and corrupt man. He secures both the tickets for the Special and Ralph's unlikely role as George Washington in the school play. Ralph burns the card (which had a picture of a train saying 'I Choo Choo Choose You" on it) as he begins his speech as Washington. The rejection has stirred emotions in him which allow him to play the part well and thus gain some respect from his fellow students. Lisa then makes amends and offers Ralph a card saying 'Let's Bee Friends' with a picture of a Bumblebee. Simple Ralph is delighted at this and the two end the episode as actual friends in a touching reconciliation. Chief Wiggum watches on delighted too and turns the radio back to KBBL where the incompetent DJs once again play the "Monster Mash" for Presidents Day!
At every stage of the story this was logically written with the emotions of those involved front and centre. As with Bart's crush (408) the tone was perfect (and innocent) for two eight year olds to share a love story. What pushes this episode from just good toward great is the addition of appropriate humour at each stage.
As I've mentioned Chief Wiggum steps forward here into the role we now know him well for. His first scene with Ralph sees him cracking peanuts and insisting that persistence is the key with women too. Later on he tells Lisa how he came across Krusty in a dirty movie theatre and got the Anniversary Special tickets from him. Lisa tells him that it was an inappropriate story for children and he responds "Really? I keep my pants on in this version." At the end of the episode he amusingly turns his radio channel when an APB comes in about a riot taking place and says "Not tonight."
Krusty too is on terrific form here with his Anniversary Special (see Best Joke). His hack persona can be really funny and the writers had lots to work with here as we saw clips from his many decades on the air. One of those clips saw him asking a trainer why the animal on his head was called a "Urine Monkey" but I preferred the scene where he dumped real snow on the distinguished poet Robert Frost. Frost, refusing to overreact responds, "We discussed this and I said no." Bart's desire to be at the Krusty Special led him to offer to dress up as Lisa and go with Ralph. Lisa questioned whether he would kiss Ralph and more to which Bart stopped her saying "You don't want to know how far I'll go."
The school talent show also had an amusing song about the less famous Presidents along with silly sketches about the more famous ones. I particularly liked Homer crying "Whoo hoo" as Principal Skinner announced "And now our evening comes to an end" followed by a D'oh as Skinner continued "with a thorough retelling of the life of George Washington." Even Itchy and Scratchy made me smile for once as Itchy pulls Scratchy's heart out and gives it to him for Valentines Day. Scratchy is touched but then opens the paper to read the unlikely headline "You Need a Heart To Live."
The Bad: Nothing much.
Best Joke: Krusty sounds entirely genuine as he says "And now my favourite part of the show!" He then says under his breath "What's that say?" The man holding cards for him to read moves forward and Krusty says (not under his breath) "Talk to the audience? Oh God! This is always death." Sometimes it's just that sheer commitment to a joke that can make even the most obvious punchline funny. It helps that Dan Castellaneta fills Krusty's voice with such a weary sense of reality in those moments.
The Bottom Line: Like many of the best episodes of The Simpsons this is fantastic from start to finish. No scene is wasted as the plot builds and the jokes flow naturally from the story being presented. This is not one of the funniest episodes ever but it is very sweet.
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