49. Lisa the Greek

"Come on, snipers - where ARE YOU?"

“Come on, snipers – where ARE YOU?”

  • First broadcast: Thursday 23 January 1992, Fox Television
  • First shown on UK terrestrial television: Saturday 8 February 1997, BBC1
  • Showrunners: Al Jean & Mike Reiss
  • First draft: Jay Kogen & Wallace Wolodarsky
  • Writing staff: Jay Kogen, Wallace Wolodarsky, George Meyer, Jon Vitti, John Swartzwelder, Jeff Martin, David Stern
  • Storyboard: Kevin O’Brien
  • Animation director: Rich Moore

Lisa the Greek was broadcast a few days before the 1992 American Super Bowl. To make the script topical, references were included to the teams playing in that year’s game – a gimmick that was updated whenever the episode was repeated over the following few years. A pity the writers weren’t able to redo the rest of the story while they were at it.

Plot
Oh dear. After near-impenetrable examinations of baseball and soapbox derby racing, here’s a third dose of uncompromising Americana. The idea of devoting almost an entire episode to American football is intimidating enough. But to build it around the conceit of Homer turning Lisa on to gambling; then to not even bother with a decent ‘B’ story (Marge takes Bart to buy some new clothes – and that’s it); then to deprive us of even the merest glimpse of a Mr Burns or a Principal Skinner or anyone who could leaven proceedings with a bit of variety… well, it’s tough luck if you don’t know your NFL from your NCP. 1

Characters
“So gambling makes a good thing even better,” concludes Lisa, without a trace of scepticism – at which point the episode is pretty much a write-off. For all its obvious attention to detail in the way it depicts the NFL, and for all the sincere gestures of affection between father and daughter, that one remark is hard to surmount. It goes against almost everything we’ve seen of Lisa and been told about her character’s relationship with Homer, not to mention her tiresome saintliness and unending dogmatism. For her to convert suddenly from a girl who more or less disowns her dad for stealing cable TV to a girl who embraces the merits of gambling just to curry favour with that same person, is a narrative device of the most risible kind. It’s so cynical you can’t really feel any joy at seeing them having a good time, either when they’re betting on the football or – in the episode’s twee finale – hiking up Mount Springfield. Perhaps this is an episode you can properly appreciate only if you are a) a father and/or b) a gambler. 2

Locations and design
Before Lisa’s regrettable swerve into a parallel personality, we see her visiting the library to see if she can read up on American football. Not only does this afford us a fine glimpse of Springfield’s most upholstered and least used municipal facility…

lisa1

…it also leads to possibly the first time the word “homoerotic” has appeared in a cartoon, as Lisa rifles through a card index: “Mmm, football… ‘Homoeroticism in’; ‘Oddball Canadian rules’…” 5

Pardon My Zinger
There’s a great moment when Homer, desperate for some NFL betting tips, calls up a telephone line that charges an exorbitant rate per second. The voice on the other end proceeds to speak incredibly slowly: a standard Simpsons device, but one that Homer can tolerate only for so long: “In the game of Mi – a -mi versus Cin…” “Cincinatti?” “…cin…” “Cincinatti!” “…at…” “Cincinatti!!” Bart’s opinion of the ghastly half-time “entertainment” at the Super Bowl – “Come on snipers, where ARE YOU?” – pretty much sums up at least one viewer’s feelings towards the entire sport. 5

Special guests
The one spark of interest during the interminable Super Bowl sequence is Phil Hartman’s cameo as Troy McClure, who has turned up solely to promote his latest TV project that just happens to premiere right after the game. “My new show is called Handle With Care!” Troy beams to the camera. “I play Jack Handle, a retired cop who shares an apartment with a retired criminal. We’re the original odd couple!” 9

Music
It’s not one of Alf Clausen’s best. Aside from the fittingly garish music that accompanies the Super Bowl half-time show, and the marching-band version of the theme tune over the end credits, barely a note leaves an impression. 2

Voices
Yeardley Smith won an Emmy for her performance as Lisa: an honour awarded less for what she said than for how she said it. There was another story with the word Lisa in the title just six episodes before this, for which the Emmy would have been much more fitting. 5

Animation direction
There’s a nice bit of staging in the scene where Homer is having one of his bedroom spats with Marge (of which there are an awful lot in season three) and listing all the treats his gambling has paid for, when suddenly the camera switches angles to reveal him with his feet in a water bath:

lisa2

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The script doesn’t afford Rich Moore a lot of room for much else that catches the eye, though the closing image – Homer and Lisa atop the summit of Mount Springfield – at least leaves you with one pleasant vista to take away from the episode. 6

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Homages, spoofs, fantasies
The title Lisa the Greek is a reference to an American bookmaker and sport commentator known as Jimmy ‘The Greek’ Snyder. Before first seeing this episode, at least one viewer thought the title was some cryptic reference to ancient philosophy or possibly even classical theatre. So much for setting your expectations high. There’s one brief fantasy sequence to enjoy: Lisa’s nightmare of herself as an adult gambler, in which she has become a shabby layabout with a tongue like a docker. No wonder she wakes up screaming. 4

lisa4

Emotion and tone
There are individual scenes in this episode which, admired on their own terms, appear quite impressive, like inspired flourishes in the corners of an otherwise lousy painting. Bart holding up a rude message to the security camera in the clothes shop, for example. Or Homer reluctantly letting Lisa join him on the sofa, then asking her to move further and further towards the other end of the cushions. These moments strikes their own distinct and plausible tone. But they don’t fit together happily into a coherent whole. The disjointed tone is made worse by Lisa’s fickle behaviour, and you’re left with a lot of tedious riffing on an off-key theme. 3

Verdict: 42%
A busted flush.

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