The Simpsons: Why ‘I Love Lisa’ Is One of the Best Lisa Episodes

The Simpsons
The Simpsons

The Simpsons has never been too interested in celebrating Valentine’s Day, as only 9 episodes of their 35 seasons take place on the special day. The show’s holiday of choice has always been Halloween, with there being an astounding 34 Treehouse of Horror episodes to date. It’s only fitting, then, how their best Valentine’s episode, Season 4’s ‘I Love Lisa’, begins and ends with the classic Halloween song ‘Monster Mash’. It’s a quick gag of the radio DJ playing the wrong song, in what’s also the funniest Lisa episode the animated sitcom has to offer.

Granted, Lisa-centric episodes are typically known more for their sincerity rather than their comedy, but by no means does ‘I Love Lisa’ skimp on its sincerity, either. It’s only half a Lisa-centric episode, anyway — the story also focuses on Ralph, Lisa’s simple-minded classmate, as it revolves around him developing a crush on Lisa after receiving a Valentine’s Day card from her.

At the time, putting such a spotlight on Ralph was an interesting move from the writers. Before then, Ralph was nothing more than a background character. His character was so undefined that Season 3’s ‘Lisa’s Pony’ had him speak in a laughably deep voice, and Season 4’s ‘Marge vs. the Monorail’ had him asking if the upcoming Springfield monorail could outrun the Flash, a relatively normal question by future Ralph standards.

‘I Love Lisa’, however, not only gave Ralph his solid personality of the dim-witted but good-natured young boy, but it also made every viewer at home instantly fall in love with him. Just as the students of Lisa’s class are told to build paper mailboxes for their Valentine’s Day cards, Ralph tells Miss Hoover, “My parents won’t let me use scissors.” This makes the entire classroom laugh and Miss Hoover goes, “The children are right to laugh at you, Ralph. These things couldn’t cut butter.”

It’s a hilariously sharp remark from a second-grade teacher, but Ralph’s prior line is said with so much sincerity and followed by such a sweet smile, that it’s impossible not to be endeared by the dopey boy. You can clearly see he isn’t intentionally trying to give Miss Hoover a hard time. He’s just a lot slower than most kids, made even more evident by him somehow gluing his head to his shoulder while making his mailbox.

The truly winning moment for both Ralph and Lisa, though, is when Lisa notices Ralph not getting any cards, and she decides to give him one to cheer him up. By this point, Lisa’s smart and determined but still good-hearted nature was already strongly established, so this act only reminded viewers why Lisa was such a likable member of the Simpsons family.

Her thoughtful gesture charmed both audience members and the grateful recipient of her card, as Ralph’s sigh of joy after Lisa leaves signals the start of the crush that follows Ralph throughout the episode. Who can blame him, really, when the card has a picture of a train and reads, “I choo-choo-choose you!”?

So commences a coming-of-age for both characters, as Lisa must learn how to reject Ralph’s affections, while Ralph must learn how to accept said rejection. Eventually, Ralph invites Lisa to go with him to Krusty the Clown’s live clip show, which Lisa reluctantly agrees to.

It’s because of this clip show that the episode’s funniest line is said: “Watch this, Lis. You can actually pinpoint the second when his heart rips in half.” Bart says this while rewinding the recording of Krusty’s show, where Krusty talks to Ralph and Ralph announces that he loves Lisa, to which Lisa screams a loud and long, “NOOO!”

It’s a scene that’s both heart-wrenching and hysterical, as you feel innocent Ralph’s pain even if you can’t help but laugh at Bart’s clever remark about his demise. Interestingly enough, Bart would go on to show kindness as well to Ralph in the future, as the two develop a friendship in Season 9’s ‘This Little Wiggy’ after Marge invites him over for a play date, and Season 11’s ‘Bart to the Future’ shows adult Ralph and Bart being both roommates and bandmates.

Of course, as expected from Lisa’s episodes, ‘I Love Lisa’ ends on a welcomely wholesome note. Ralph channels his anger at Lisa through his performance as George Washington in the school play, resulting in a terrific performance that wins over everyone watching, and even has some of his fellow schoolmates ask for his autograph after the show.

That alone is enough to boost his self-esteem, but then Lisa shows him kindness yet again — a genuine one this time, not one born out of pity — by handing him a card with a bee on it that says, “Let’s bee friends!” Ralph and Lisa both chuckle at the card, and as ‘Monster Mash’ plays once more on the radio of Chief Wiggum’s car nearby, the two youngsters swing side-by-side, being the two things they both comfortably are: kids and friends.

For a Valentine’s Day episode to end with friendship is pretty noteworthy, but to have that platonic ending feel just as triumphant as a romantic one is even more noteworthy. So much of adulthood is being asked about your romantic partner or your spouse, but maybe we can learn a thing or two from these second-graders swinging on the playground. Women and men can be great friends, and that friendship isn’t in any way less than a romantic relationship.

If anything, that friendship can be just the thing needed for us to grow, as Lisa and Ralph end the episode a little bit older, a little bit wiser, and somehow, a little more childlike too.

READ NEXT: Ranking Every The Simpsons Game From Worst to Best

Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site. We cover gaming news, movie reviews, wrestling and much more.