30 Years In the past ‘The Simpsons’ Informed The Biggest Love Story Of a Era

Everyone makes use of the phrase “best” an excessive amount of. However The Simpsons episode “I Love Lisa” is the best love story in American historical past. Okay. Perhaps not. The best love story in American historical past might be Moonstruck, however this unassuming Simpsons episode had a much bigger affect on popular culture than most different popular culture love tales of the ‘80s or ‘90s. Whereas points of “I Love Lisa” could seem cringy or outdated, this episode is way smarter than you bear in mind and value one other watch with older, wiser, eyes.

The significance of “I Love Lisa,” — which debuted on February 11, 1993 — is sort of actually attributable to it being the debut episode of Ralph Wiggum, Meme God, in his most recognizable kind. Whereas the character had been current because the first season of the present (“Moaning Lisa”), he was at all times relegated to the non-speaking background. When he did get the occasional line, it was at all times with the improper voice. His dialogue in “Lisa’s Pony” is especially bizarre. The 8-year-old, in a hoarse voice solely achievable after seven packs of cigarettes, wonders what man might presumably “tame” Lisa. It wasn’t till this season 4 Valentine’s Day AND President’s Day-themed episode that the candy and oblivious police chief’s son (now voiced by Nancy Cartwright) got here into full view.

Ralph’s very first scene establishes him so completely. He reveals he can’t use scissors, that he already ate his crimson crayon, and that he by some means glued his head to his shoulder. He’s a multitude, however he’s not unruly about it, and he’s tremendously open-hearted. When it comes time to provide valentine’s playing cards out to his buddies in school, he’s beaming with pleasure. It’s fascinating to rewatch this 30 years on, figuring out that on the time Ralph was simply That One Child Everybody Has In Their Class, and figuring out that within the current day, a considerate instructor would instantly prepare academic help for him. As a substitute of, you recognize, telling him that his classmates are right to snigger at him. (Think about how livid you’d be for those who discovered your baby’s instructor mentioned that!)

The best valentine ever?

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Sadly, Ralph’s love will not be reciprocated (establishing the theme of this episode) and he begins quietly crying to himself. (That he does it quietly destroys me upon rewatching “I Love Lisa”. It’s a quick however unimaginable appearing alternative that speaks volumes about Ralph’s life.) Lisa notices and cheerily arms him essentially the most meme-able valentine in recorded historical past.

It says choo-choo-choose me and there’s an image of a prepare!

You wouldn’t understand it by way of an off-the-cuff watch, however an actual “Choo-Choo-Select You” Valentine’s card was the preliminary inspiration for “I Love Lisa”. Then-showrunner Al Jean obtained a valentine identical to this when he was in the third grade. Whereas telling his showrunning accomplice Mike Reiss in regards to the second the duo tossed across the concept of Lisa giving that very same card to Ralph Wiggum, with him subsequently taking it too far.

Whereas his candy and unassuming demeanor takes the sting out of a scenario that would quickly flip creepy, the place that Lisa is put into actually makes you squirm. Not solely as a result of you recognize she will be able to’t get out of it with out destroying his shallowness (which is on life help as it’s, contemplating the opening of “I Love Lisa”), however since you the viewer can actively recall once you did the exact same factor in grade college or center college: pursue a crush that clearly wasn’t desirous about you.

The episode does not shrink back from the inevitable collision between Lisa’s actuality and Ralph’s doe-eyed fantasy. On dwell TV, on some of the in style exhibits within the Simpsons universe, Ralph declares that he loves Lisa and can marry her sometime. And Lisa explodes with the reality: She by no means preferred him and the one motive she gave him the valentine “is as a result of no one else would!”

Ralph is so damage you can hear this freeze-frame.

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“I Love Lisa” has already delivered two iconic moments deeply into the psyche of humanity, however the place the episode actually earns its legendary standing is in what occurs after Lisa rips Ralph’s coronary heart in half. The 2 children should now play husband and spouse in a brief play about George Washington, to be carried out within the elementary college’s President’s Day pageant. (Police Chief Wiggum organized this at the start went bitter for those who’re curious.)

Ralph is understandably wounded by simply being round Lisa throughout rehearsals, and when the massive night time comes he appears overwhelmed with disappointment. Ralph has hassle focusing even at the very best of occasions, and he has an exceptionally laborious time figuring out how different folks really feel and the way his actions have an effect on them. It’s all however sure that he’ll embarrass himself in entrance of an viewers but once more. This time in entrance of everybody he is aware of.

However he doesn’t, and his uncharacteristically sterling efficiency as George Washington comes off as largely real throughout the confines of the story. It wasn’t till I rewatched this as an grownup that I spotted why: Ralph has spent almost all the episode focusing. On Lisa. And that focus granted him the readability to be taught–painfully however inevitably–how pity could be mistaken for love and the way his perspective isn’t the one one.

Ralph pours these realizations and that disappointment into his efficiency, and the adulation he subsequently receives is much extra actual than any valentine’s day card. Lastly, Ralph is revered by his classmates. Lisa tells him he did a terrific job and is clearly blissful for him, and provides an olive department. Can they nonetheless be buddies? (I received’t go into how she requests Ralph’s friendship, but it surely says “bee” on it and there’s an image of a bee.)

In the long run, “I Love Lisa” provides its viewers a surprisingly mature tackle unrequited love. Ralph suffers heavy penalties by not heeding Lisa’s needs, in a second so iconic that it most likely received internalized by all the children, kids, or teenagers, watching the episode again in 1993. And that’s a cautionary story that serves us nicely into maturity when forming relationships turns into way more complicated than exchanging pun-filled playing cards. On the opposite facet of the coin, Ralph additionally finds a technique to heal and enhance himself with out anger, with out lashing out, and with out shifting the work of his self-improvement onto others. One other lesson that’s key to navigating maturity.

“I Love Lisa” isn’t truly the best love story of our technology, or American historical past, and even the best love story on The Simpsons (that may be the whirlwind courtship between Troy McClure and Selma Bouvier, clearly). But it surely’s a particularly worthy and surprisingly vital episode of the present, and it has greater than earned its place amongst the classics.

“I Love Lisa” is Season 4, Episode 15 of The Simpsons. It is streaming on Disney+. You can even buy the episode on iTunes, YouTube, Amazon, and elsewhere.