Moaning Lisa: New Feelings on an Old Episode

Posted: November 8, 2014 by Sam in Animation, Television
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve been mulling this one around in my head for some time now, mostly because I wasn’t sure if this was something I necessarily wanted to share with people, but fuck it, a website is nothing if not a platform for narcissism, so here I go!

For my and the preceding generation, The Simpsons was appointment television. At its best, the show lampooned the American Family with a combination of slapstick, satire, and sheer madness. As a kid, watching Homer fall down a canyon a couple times was hilarious. But as a teenager and an adult with a fair amount of education under my belt, references to movies, books(“Here’s the grapes. And here’s the wrath!”), music, history (“We had quitters during the Revolution, too. We called them…Kentuckians.”), and politics made me realize how smart the show was, which made me enjoy the show even more! Though, nowadays, the show makes me chuckle or smile every once and a while, there hasn’t been an episode since about 1998 that’s made me laugh from the gut and instilled in me the desire to quote it relentlessly.

And quote it I do! A lot! Fortunately, I’ve managed to find a group of friends with a similar inclination and nothing makes me happier than walking into a room, speaking the smallest piece of a Simpsons quote and knowing someone’s going to pick it up and finish the quote or laugh their ass off because I’ve reminded them of that particular episode. And thus begins either a discussion of how freakin’ awesome The Simpsons is or a sharing of quotes. Either way, fun to be had by all!

And while I could probably write a whole blog devoted to how great The Simpsons is, that’s not the point of this article. Instead, I’d like to talk about what happened after a viewing of an episode I hadn’t seen in years: Moaning Lisa.


The plot, for those who haven’t seen it or those who need a refresher, is split between the A Story and the B Story. In the A Story: Lisa is dealing with an existential crisis. She wakes up and just feels sad, unable to muster even the smallest bit of interest in anything. Unable to express herself and her feelings to her family, she finds an outlet through jazz with the help of Bleeding Gums Murphy. The B Story focuses on Homer’s obsessive competition with Bart over a boxing videogame. The B Story is there to balance out the A Story with a heavy dose of humor because the A Story is especially hard-hitting on an emotional level…at least it was for me this time around.

I don’t watch The Simpsons as religiously as I used to. Though I catch the occasional rerun, I usually have to wait a while until the station gets back to the earlier episodes since I have little interest in watching reruns of the newer seasons. And even then, I tend to avoid the first two seasons of The Simpsons mostly due to the rough animation, which is hard to watch sometimes. However, on this particular night, after a long day at work, I decided to just leave the show on in the background even if it was from the first season.

And I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. From the moment Lisa sighs her way through a day at school, uncaring, searching for an outlet through music only to be squashed creatively by her music teacher to the friendship she forms with Bleeding Gums Murphy, I could not focus on anything but the episode. Something clicked in my head and I felt the deepest and most sincere empathy for Lisa because, at one point in my life, I was just like her.

I’m not saying I was an eight-year-old genius with a talent for music. No, like Lisa, I too experienced undefined sadness. Coupled with some anger issues, my teenage years, let’s say…13 to 19, were not the happiest years of my life. I was fairly sensitive, hadn’t quite formed the thicker skin I sport now, had few if any friends, and some unresolved bullshit from my childhood decided to creep its way into my psyche at the most inopportune moment. Needless to say, there were several days that resulted in me bursting into tears for no apparent reason. And it freaked me out! I have some control issues (okay, a lot!), so a three-day crying jag that had, at the time, no discernable origin did nothing but exacerbate my sadness and anger. And thus, a vicious cycle was formed! And though I am a sensitive control freak, I am similarly, if not more so, stubborn as all hell! So, after a year of therapy and dealing with what was really bothering me head on, I stopped being sad all the time and the anger subsided…somewhat. I became a happier person for it, able to enjoy life more and roll with the punches.

So, with those experiences behind me and learned from, I was shocked at how easily I identified with Lisa and her struggle to find happiness. The episode aired on February 11, 1990, four days after I turned six-years-old, but only now, two decades later, do I truly understand. When Homer tries to tell Lisa to stop playing her saxophone and she bursts into tears simply because she’s sad, my heart ached because I was once Lisa in that moment.

Homer and Marge equally remind me of the struggles of not only my parents, but most parents with a child going through a similar ordeal. Homer attempts to help Lisa the only way he knows how: bouncing her on his knee and trying to wash over her sadness with advice only a father can give to a child experiencing something he doesn’t quite understand. In the same scene mentioned above, when Homer is about to tell Lisa to stop playing her saxophone, when Lisa bursts into unexplained tears the sheer devastation on Homer’s face is heartbreaking. It’s a father who doesn’t know how to help his daughter who’s obviously in pain. And the only thing Homer can do is tell Lisa to keep playing. Marge, though her intentions are good, tries to force Lisa into smiling for the day, hoping that the outside will eventually influence the inside…and take the heat off Marge for maybe being a bad mother according to some advice Mother Bouvier gave her when she too was a sad little girl. But when Marge witnesses how her daughter is mistreated just for being herself, she reneges her earlier advice and says to Lisa:

“Lisa, I apologize to you, I was wrong, I take it all back.  Always be yourself.  If you want to be sad, honey, be sad. We’ll ride it out with you.  And when you get finished feeling sad, we’ll still be there.  From now on, let me do the smiling for both of us.”

It’s the sagest advice any parent can give their child and it reminds me of many conversations I had with my own mother. Never did she tell me to knock it off or suck it up. My mother let me be sad, hopeful and confident that I would figure things out eventually. And I’m all the better for it because I had someone in my corner who understood.

What it boils down to is it’s less about the cartoon and more about the experiences that have shaped me into the person that I am today. Had I not gone through what I went through, I wouldn’t have felt as strongly as I do about the episode. And for a cartoon to create what is essentially the first Lisa-centered episode based around the character’s inherent sadness and struggle for acceptance is gutsy, to say the least.  But it’s satisfying to know that, before the zaniness of later episodes, the creators and writers of The Simpsons wanted Lisa’s perspective to always be slightly left-field of her family, yet still identifiable to the viewing audience. More so, I think, then Bart, Lisa Simpson is iconic for the struggles she faces and more clearly defines the feelings of a generation then her lovable scamp of a brother.

So, there you have it. It’s possible I’m over-thinking the matter or over-analyzing the episode, but it means something to me to share this with others. The fact that The Simpsons can still speak to me as a (mostly) mature adult gives me a greater appreciation for a show that is more than just a cartoon but a mainstay for anyone in need of laughs, wit, and heart.


But what about the rest of you out there? Ever come across something and identify with it more as an adult? Thoughts on the Simpsons? Always glad to get feedback!

Originally published at Noise Shark Media

  1. […] Moaning Lisa: New Feelings on an Old Episode – Smooth Charlie’s Link of the Week is this heartfelt rewatching of “Moaning Lisa”: […]

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