Lisa Simpson is quite easily the most complex character in the Simpson family, and as a result, some of the most ambitious episodes in The Simpsons canon focus on her. To celebrate this vital character and the birthday of Yeardley Smith, who turned 51 on Friday and who has voiced the character since 1987, we compiled a list of ten superior Lisa-centric episodes.
“Moaning Lisa” – Original Air Date: February 11, 1990
Lisa refuses to play dodgeball because she’s sad in this essential early Simpsons episode. No one can quite figure out what she’s sad about, though, and that’s pretty much the point. She finds an unlikely friend in jazz musician Bleeding Gums Murphy, but no one at home or school makes any effort to understand her. The only thing that cheers her up is when Marge stands up for her, telling her that she doesn’t have to smile if she doesn’t want to, which, ironically, makes her feel like smiling. This was the first episode to really give us insight into Lisa’s character, and the predecessor to every other episode featured in this list.
“Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy” – Original Air Date: February 17, 1994
Lisa’s politics have been played up a lot over the years, to the point where it’s honestly become a bit tiresome, but in this episode, her intentions are noble as she fights against the sexist phrases spouted by the new talking Malibu Stacy doll (“don’t ask me, I’m just a girl”).
Lisa’s tour of the factory brings many laughs, but not much satisfaction for Lisa, who vows to create her own doll with the help of the creator of Malibu Stacy, who is played brilliantly by Kathleen Turner. Unfortunately, their Lisa Lionheart doll is overshadowed by the new Malibu Stacy, who says the same drivel as before but has a new hat. Still, Lisa sees one girl inspired by her doll and feels vindicated.
“Summer Of 4 ft. 2” – Original Air Date: May 19, 1996
Most of the time, Lisa is pretty comfortable in her own skin. She understands that she’s a nerd and doesn’t have a particularly strong desire to be part of the popular clique. But when she gets her school yearbook, and realizes just how unpopular she is with the rest of the student body, it naturally stings a bit. A trip to Flanders’ beach house gives her a chance to carve out a new identity for herself and she becomes friendly with cool beach kids, who also have no interest in hanging out with Bart. Jealous, and not used to being in Lisa’s position as an outcast, Bart tells the kids about her true identity as a teacher’s pet. Rather than shun her, they appreciate her anyway, and give her a somewhat unfortunate going away present, at least from Homer’s point of view.
“Lisa On Ice” – Original Air Date: November 13, 1994
With Lisa being the brains of the family, her emergence as an athlete (she’s the goalie on Apu’s hockey team) has Bart feeling insecure, which creates a lot of tension between the two. Unfortunately, rather than trying to stop this, Homer seems to enjoy the feud, viewing it as its own kind of sport. When the big game between the two ends in a tie, and the pair make up at center ice, the crowd reacts horribly, ripping the ice rink to shreds because they didn’t get a satisfying conclusion. A fine commentary on the viciousness of sports fans, and a great episode exploring what happens when Lisa and Bart are truly at odds.
“Lisa’s Wedding” – Original Air Date: March 19, 1995
When a fortune teller at a carnival tells Lisa the story of her first love, she appears to have hit the jackpot: he’s a charming, intelligent Englishman from an exceedingly wealthy family who shares her passion for both vegetarianism and Jim Carrey. Unfortunately, he clashes with the Simpson family, whose well-meaning attempts to be hospitable just keep on backfiring.
Just before their wedding, Hugh tells Lisa that he’s looking forward to going back to England, and never having to deal with her family again. This crushes Lisa. Hugh didn’t realize that in spite of her many gripes about her family, she loves them just the same. Fittingly, after Lisa’s future is finished being told, she meets up with Homer, who tells her about all the different kinds of meat he just ate.
“Lisa The Vegetarian” – October 15, 1995
This was the first time Lisa’s morality and politics came directly into conflict with the rest of the family’s beliefs. After seeing an adorable lamb at Storytown Village and then having lamb for dinner that night Lisa feels a strong disconnect and decides that she can no longer eat meat. This is a difficult choice to make when you live in the same house as Homer Simpson, who naturally plans a giant barbeque (for no reason other than to show up Flanders) right as she makes this decision. This naturally leads to a huge blow-up between Lisa and Homer, whose suckling pig she steals. After running away and meeting Paul and Linda McCartney, Lisa realizes that she’s being too overzealous in forcing her beliefs on Homer, while Homer realizes he should’ve respected Lisa’s choices a bit more as well.
“I Love Lisa” – Original Air Date – February 11, 1993
When Lisa sees that poor Ralph Wiggum doesn’t have a Valentine in his box, Lisa feels awful and decides to give him one. This leads to Ralph developing a crush on Lisa which is unrequited to say the least. This episode does a fine job of making both characters feel sympathetic. We relate to Lisa being in the uncomfortable position of wanting to help someone and not realizing the consequences, and who doesn’t feel bad for Ralph when he finally has someone be nice to him, only to get his heart ripped out on national television? Luckily, they make up after Lisa writes him another puny valentine once she realizes that Ralph is a perfectly nice boy, and not a bad person to have as a friend.
“Lisa The Iconoclast” – Original Air Date: February 18, 1996
When Lisa finds out the truth about Jebediah Springfield — that he was actually a murderous pirate named Hans Sprungfeld — she faces an uncomfortable dilemma. No one wants to hear the truth about their beloved town founder, but it seems wrong to have the entire town believing a lie about the very nature of the town’s existence. After weeks of resistance and being called a “PC thug,”Lisa is finally able to prove her findings beyond any reasonable doubt, and yet, she ultimately decides not to push, deciding that the myth of Jebediah has done so much to bring Springfield together that it wouldn’t be right to spoil that for everyone. This episode is a brilliant commentary on how society relates to history, as well as a fine test of Lisa’s moral code.
“Lisa’s Rival” – Original Air Date: September 11, 1994
What makes this episode work so well is that rather than have Allison Taylor (who, it is revealed, is Lisa’s smarter new classmate) exist as a villain, they make her impossibly friendly, which annoys Lisa even more.
Lisa compromises her values and tries to sabotage Allison’s entry in the diorama contest, which is a rare time that we see her character be anything other than good. This makes me wonder if Lisa’s kindness can be partially tied to her confidence, because when that gets rattled, her bad side comes out. Of course, she comes to her senses and tells the truth in the end, but it doesn’t matter since Skinner likes Ralph’s Chewbacca figurines better than Lisa and Allison’s entries.
“Lisa’s Substitute” – Original Air Date: April 25, 1991
How Lisa feels about Mr. Bergstrom, a substitute teacher, is handled quite delicately in this episode. It’s partly a crush, but a lot of it has to do with how she both relates to and respects him more than she does her father. Of course, Homer is something of a sympathetic character here, too. Yes, he earns it when Lisa calls him a baboon, but his error was one of ignorance and not maliciousness.
Things end on a high note as Homer makes up with Lisa and cheers up Bart after he loses the school election. Sometimes, Homer isn’t quite as clueless as he seems.