Welcome to Welcome to Springfield, a OneOfUs column that re-examines The Simpsons series episode by episode to establish what made it a cultural icon, and to determine what went wrong. It’s a lofty goal, but Andrew is just the man to do it.
Episode title: Moaning Lisa
Airdate: February 11th, 1990
Lisa has been depressed as of late. Her school isn’t very supportive of her creativity, her dad is obsessed with beating Bart in video boxing, and Marge just doesn’t understand. One night, Lisa hears the sound of a saxophone and follows it to the source: local jazz musician “Bleeding Gums” Murphy. After jamming with him for a little bit, Lisa is given a ride home from Marge. Meanwhile, Homer decides to go to the local arcade to practice. He meets a child who teaches him some tricks in order to beat Bart.
During a ride to school, Marge initially tries to convince Lisa to hide her depression by smiling and pretending she’s happy. However, after observing how the students and the music teacher treat her daughter, Marge turns the car around, picks Lisa up and tells her that it’s perfectly acceptable if she wants to be sad, which makes Lisa smile.
At home, Bart plays Homer in video boxing and is surprised that Homer is beating him. Marge comes into announce something and in order to get Homer’s attention, she unplugs the TV, squashing his one chance at beating Bart. The Simpsons go to a jazz club to watch Bleeding Gums Murphy play. As the song continues, Homer gradually realizes that the subject matter of his tune came from Lisa.
Lisa is the most likely of all the main characters to have depression. She’s intelligent beyond her years, she’s the middle child and receives much less attention from her parents than Bart (the frequent troublemaker) or baby Maggie, and she’s passionate about many causes and subjects. There are very few people in her life who understand her as a person or what she is going through. Even when she jams with Murphy, the person she shares the closest bond with in quite some time, he admits that he can’t help her with her problems.
Speaking of Bleeding Gums Murphy, this episode marks his first appearance. He has to be one of my favorite characters outside of the main cast and I wish he had had more appearances as the series continued. He’s cool without being in your face, he’s got his own problems, and while he’s only on screen for a few minutes, we have a better idea of who he is than some of the supporting characters who have significantly more screen time.
This episode was also the first to feature a B plot, and Homer’s sections are when we start to see the dumber side of him. He’s a full grown man who is obsessed with beating a ten-year-old at a video game. He even degrades himself by barking like a dog in order to get tips on how to play. The resolution is fitting and it’s fair to say he gets what he deserves. Homer hasn’t ignored Lisa, but he hasn’t helped either. He’s even yelled at her as an excuse for one of his losses. To see it all end with a simple pull of a plug is pretty satisfying.
Obviously, this episode is about Lisa. In terms of character development, if you’ve paid attention, you’ll know Lisa is intelligent (referencing the id during Bart the Genius, her speech in No Disgrace Like Home) and unfortunately, some of the smartest, most talented people in this world are prone to depression. Another important element of Lisa’s character development is her devotion to music. While we’ve see Lisa play her saxophone in the opening credits six times at this point, it isn’t until this episode that we see how much it truly means to her.
I liked the episode a lot. But if I have one complaint about it, it’d be how Lisa’s depression goes away relatively quickly. Real depression is a serious medical condition that can take years to treat effectively. That’s the good thing about problems on TV: no matter the magnitude, they’re resolved after 30 minutes.
Final score: 5.0/5.0