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Friday, August 09, 2013

Summer of 4 ft. 2

Okay, so for this Friday's edition of the blog, I thought that we'd do an episode spotlight. It's been a while since I featured one of these, so I wanted to do a very special one.

As it turns out, today's featured topic comes from a show that debuted its first episode in December 1989...and is STILL AIRING TODAY.

So, let's get it out of the way. We're going to be featuring an episode from the long-running television series “The Simpsons”.

It seems hard to believe that the show is going to be airing its twenty-fifth season this fall. Twenty-five years! And, here's a really shocking fact for all of you still trying to comprehend this. When the series first began (and this isn't counting the fact that the Simpsons actually debuted on the Tracey Ullman Show two years prior in 1987), actress Yeardley Smith (who has voiced the character of Lisa Simpson since her creation) was just a young woman of twenty-five. On July 3, 2014, Yeardley Smith will be turning fifty! Therefore, Yeardley Smith has literally spent half of her life voicing Lisa Simpson! That is absolutely insane to me!

I have a bit of a confession to make now that I've mentioned Lisa Simpson. I have been a fan of “The Simpsons” since the very beginning, and have vivid memories of being an eight year old boy watching the very first episode of the series (the one where the family adopts Santa's Little Helper on Christmas Eve). When I was growing up, most of my classmates idolized Bart Simpson for the first three or four seasons, and then as we grew up, their favourite character either became Homer Simpson or Ralph “My Cat's Breath Smells Like Cat Food” Wiggum.

While I admit that I too find Homer hysterical, and while I'll admit to chuckling everytime I see Ralph “He's Gonna Smell Like Hot Dogs” Wiggum appear on screen, my favourite character has always been Lisa Simpson, and with good reason. We're a lot alike.

Okay, so I don't have really spiky hair that looks like a starfish, nor do I have a closet of red dresses that look like they were designed by Pebbles Flintstone. But I do know what Lisa went through. In elementary school, Lisa was always the brainy gal who always knew what the right answers were to everything and did more than her share of overachieving. She was essentially the anti-Bart. In a lot of ways, I felt like I understood her because I was considered one of the “smart kids”, which would have been fine.

Unfortunately, being the “smart kid” doesn't necessarily mean that you're automatically respected and liked. It was quite the opposite with me. Being the “smart kid” meant kids trying to copy off of your paper, and only wanting to be in your group so that you could do the work, and they could share the A or B grade. Believe me, I had a lot of kids in my elementary school who were like that...and suffice to say, I have little to zero contact with them today. But that's another issue for another time.

Anyway, I understood how Lisa felt. She was the smartest kid at Springfield Elementary, but nobody really seemed to care. Even Principal Skinner couldn't muster up enough enthusiasm to celebrate Lisa's talents.

And, you can forget about Lisa's classmates and peers. They spent more time making fun of her and ignoring her. Really, the only people who really seemed to give her any attention at all were Milhouse and Ralph “I Bent My Wookie” Wiggum. Her supposed best friend Janey was fair-weather at best, her friendship with Allison started off as a rivalry, and don't even get me started on those twin terrors Sherri and Terri.

CONFESSION: I despise those twins with the heat of a convection oven...which is exactly the kind of device I want to shove those two witches inside. Never liked them at all. I have no sympathy or love for “mean girls” - which coincidentally is the very reason why “Big Brother 15” absolutely takes the prize as the worst season ever...

Um, sorry, where was I? Oh, yes, Lisa has no friends. Got it.

And, that's where the episode “Summer of 4 ft. 2” begins (The title being a clever play on words of the film “Summer of '42”). The episode aired on May 19, 1996, and was the seventh season finale. It also happens to be the episode spotlight for today, and one of my Top 10 episodes of “The Simpsons” to ever air.

The story begins on the final day of school. As editor of the school yearbook (and really, how many elementary schools have yearbooks? I know mine certainly didn't), Lisa really put her heart and soul into making the yearbook the best one ever, and all she really wanted was to have her hard work rewarded by having people sign the inside of it.

Unfortunately, Lisa received zero signatures, making her already wounded self-esteem plummet even more. Contrast that to Bart, who has actually set up a booth for all the cool kids to line up at to sign his book.

Just in case you were wondering, Bart is supposedly the coolest kid at Springfield Elementary and Lisa is not.

So when neighbour-rooney Ned Flanders offers the entire Simpson family use of his beach cottage at Little Pwagmattasquarmsettport for the duration of the summer, Homer complains, but Marge is thrilled to have a real summer vacation. Marge, in the spirit of goodwill, tells Bart and Lisa that they could bring a friend with them to share in the summer fun. Bart immediately chooses Milhouse, but a depressed Lisa can't think of anyone to bring.

And this prompts little Lisa to completely reinvent herself by changing her entire look and personality. Therein lies the internal conflict for the episode.

How does Lisa achieve this while not making sure her family completely worries about her? Well, she uses her brain, and deduces that if she forgets to pack any clothing, then her mother will have to open up her wallet to purchase whatever she wants. And the plan seems to work because Lisa suddenly transforms into this beach bum.

Now that Lisa has gotten all dressed up in her “cool garb”, she decides to try and find some cool children to befriend. 

And after having a rather bizarre daydream after passing by a library in which the Mad Hatter holds Alice at gunpoint, she discovers a group of kids hanging around by the beach. She is initially afraid to approach them, thinking that they will be no different from Janey and the Bobbsey Twins. But Lisa Simpson is wearing cool clothes which have magically given her the power of self-confidence, and she proudly introduces herself to the group of kids.

TRIVIA: You won't know this until the very end of the episode, but the kids names are Erin, Rick, Dean, and Ben.

MORE TRIVIA: Most of you already knew this, but Erin is voiced by Hollywood starlet Christina Ricci. But what you didn't know was that all of Christina's lines were recorded over the telephone! At the time the voices were recorded, Christina already had another commitment and couldn't make it to the studio, so a compromise was made.

So, Lisa thinks that Erin and her posse like her because she acts cool, like, you know, whatever kind of cool. She totally plays dumb in hopes that they will find her cool (which, let me just state for the record that this is NEVER a good idea, which I will explain later on), which seems to work. The group of kids do everything together. They skateboard in the park, they admire sea creatures, and they just have a grand old time together. Lisa is relishing in the fact that she has people in her life who really like her, even if she kind of had to fib a bit in order to get the ball rolling. Still, the little beach town with the insanely long name has been a little piece of heaven for Lisa, and nothing and nobody was going to take that away from her...

...except maybe a ten-year-old brother with a jealous streak.

Bart has not had a great time of it all on the vacation at all. His father blew up the garbage disposal with a firecracker (okay, that part was hysterical and I wish I could find a video clip of it), he keeps getting the dud card on “Mystery Date” (a board game that I would never play myself), and bringing Milhouse along was kind of a misguided choice. Though, given that the alternatives were school bully Nelson, school geek Martin Prince, and Ralph “Me Fail English – That's Unpossible” Wiggum, what other choice did he have?

But perhaps the one thing that really frosted Bart's cupcakes was the fact that Lisa is the popular one, and Bart is fuming at that possibility. He can't understand why the trendy kids would love Lisa and ignore him.

In short, Bart is getting a taste of what Lisa basically had to endure her entire eight-year existence. And that prompted Bart to serve up a nice dish of revenge dipped in salt water taffy for flavouring.

How does he do this? Well, sometime before the family arrived in Lake Pwagma-whatstheplace when Lisa “forgot” to pack her stuff, Bart packed up something in his own luggage.

Lisa's unsigned yearbook – outing her as the grade grinding, club joining, overachiever. The very thing that he felt would destroy her new found friendships.

And when Bart showed Erin, Rick, Drew, and Ben the yearbook, Lisa ran away crying before any of them had the chance to react. The very next morning, Lisa went back to her old, depressed self with no friends.

Well, aside from this scene in which she attempts to attack Bart with a bottle of syrup. That was actually kind of cool.

But it is here where I go back to something that I talked about earlier. About how one should NEVER lie about who they are to attract people's attention. It never goes very well at all, and eventually even the little white lies that are told can become red and scorching hot. While it was terrible to see Lisa get hurt – it was foolish for her to think that her secrets wouldn't be exposed. After all, she has a brother who is so insecure about his social status that he would take anyone down a peg or two to maintain that hierarchy – even if it is someone related to her by blood.

And yet here's the thing. Although it takes Bart ramming Lisa so hard on the bumper cars that she sails right through a wall, Bart eventually realizes that his little stunt really hurt Lisa. But is there anything that he could do?

Well, as it turns out, when Lisa arrives back at the beach house, she hears some commotion going on around Homer's car. Initially when she realizes that Erin and her friends are around the car, Lisa is disgusted, thinking that they were only there to rub salt on the wounds that were freshly made some time earlier.

Instead, she found that they were rubbing seashells all over the side of Homer's car, using the shells to write out messages of love and adoration for their new friend. The gesture touches Lisa immensely, and she wonders why they would go to all that trouble. I think it's this quote by Erin that sums it up best.

We don't care about who you were. We just care about the cool person you are.”

Well, okay, maybe it's not as written. However, it's still sweet. And, Lisa has a nice bonding moment with her friends as well as a stark realization about herself. She didn't have to lie about who she was for anybody – not when she made friends with four of the nicest, non-judgmental people that she could have ever hoped to meet.

Of course, that moment was forever shattered by Homer having a cow over Lisa's friends destroying his car...but well, it was a nice moment at the time.

Besides, an even better moment comes from Bart's attempt at forgiveness at the very end of the episode when he proudly announces to Lisa that he showed Erin and her friends Lisa's yearbook. Lisa is at first, mortified...until Bart tells her to look inside the book.

(Now you know how I know the names of Lisa's friends.)

Oh, and one more thing. Milhouse signed it too. After all, we all know that Milhouse's crush on Lisa has lasted...well...a quarter of a century by now.

And as the sun sets on another blog entry, we see Lisa looking at the beautiful image...knowing that no matter how tough the world could be, she could always be herself and know that somewhere in the world, some people would love her and accept her just the way the was. Erin and her friends gave Lisa a beautiful gift that summer, and I think Lisa just may have given them something too – namely the ability to appreciate the wonders of sea life without having to watch an episode of “Baywatch” to do it.

Take THAT, Sherri and Terri!

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