If I “had” to choose a favorite episode of The Simpsons, I wouldn’t, because about five would be tied as my favorites. Off the top of my head, I’d choose “I Love Lisa”, “Twenty-Two Short Films About Springfield”, “Lemon of Troy”, “Last Exit to Springfield”, and “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment” (what an unfortunate title; it should have been titled “The Beer Baron”).
Anyway, here is an email I sent to Robbie and Matt of The Simpsons Show podcast, who ask their listeners to email them explaining why an episode that they’ll be reviewing soon is the listener’s all-time favorite:
Matt and Robbie,
Like any good Simpsons fan, I have a very hard time even choosing a top 5 or 10 episodes, much less a number 1. Whenever I think about my favorites and what I’d choose if I had to rank them, my mind keeps coming back to “I Love Lisa”. In your last episode you said you expected to rank “I Love Lisa” higher than it deserves, which was surprising because it is one of the very best episodes they’ve ever made. It’s a perfect half-hour of comedy. It’s also better than “Marge vs. the Monorail” in every meaningful way. First, it hits the emotional, character-driven notes very well with the Lisa and Ralph relationship, while still making those parts funny (“So, do you like…stuff?” “You can pinpoint the exact moment his heart breaks in half.”) Let’s also not forget Ralph’s amazing transformation into a skilled thespian, which was due entirely to his travails with young love and heartbreak.
Second, the episode has at least two iconic things that have entered mainstream popular culture and endured to this day, not losing any of their original hilarity: the association of “Monster Mash” with Valentine’s Day, and the “I Choo-Choo-Choose You” card that Lisa gives Ralph.
It’s also worth noting that this episode doesn’t rely on any unrealistic or fantastical devices like “Marge vs. the Monorail” does—I’m thinking specifically of Leonard Nimoy beaming away and Homer singing the Flintstones song at the beginning. This episode also isn’t a parody or an adaptation of any preexisting story that I know of, unlike “Marge vs. the Monorail” (“The Music Man”).
Finally, on a more subjective note, I just feel like “I Love Lisa” is a perfectly structured, perfectly paced, perfectly plotted episode in which everything comes together more perfectly than any I can remember—the dialog, the jokes, the story, the characters, the emotions. Like “Marge vs. the Monorail”, “I Love Lisa” doesn’t have a B plot, but I feel like there’s more to this episode. I never get to the end of this one and think, “Oh, that’s it? It’s already ending?”
It’s true that the mediocre presidents song doesn’t quite measure up to the monorail song, but “I Love Lisa” even manages to include two of the most hilarious scenes with Principal Skinner, which embody him as a character as perfectly as anything else, in an episode that isn’t even about Skinner: the Vietnam flashback on Valentine’s Day (“Johnny. Johnny! Johnyyyyyy!”), and “Welcome to a wonderful evening of theater and picking up after yourselves.”
I only compare the two episodes directly because you recently crowned “Marge vs. the Monorail” your new #1 and because they aired so close to each other—they’re on the same disc in the season 4 DVD set. I’ve watched that whole disc recently because your glowing reviews have finally inspired me to give into nostalgia and watch along with you, but I couldn’t help watching ahead a few episodes. So please don’t feel guilty about loving this episode as much as you do, because I probably love it more and will probably be unable to resist watching it again after I hear your review of it. And again next Valentine’s Day, just like last Valentine’s Day and the one before that….
Keep up the great work,
I became internet-famous when Robbie read it on the air (go to 34:12).
(And I only plan on sending Matt and Robbie one email about a supposed favorite, so I guess for the purposes of their podcast and my public record thereon, I’ve committed to “I Love Lisa”. It really, truly is a perfect half-hour of comedy.)