Stupidity tends to be a comedy writer’s best friend. Mainly because writing a stupid character to be funny is considered the easy route. Just make them say something dumb and bam! comedy.
The Simpsons was no stranger to this approach. A good number of its most iconic jokes are built partially on one character – or even the whole town – doing or saying something completely idiotic, then the situation spiraling out of control. And that was really funny!
But even more impressive was the writer’s ability to make intelligent characters funny. Mainly Springfield’s resident smarty-pants: Lisa Simpson.
Much like Marge, Lisa often played the straight man in the show. When everyone else was spouting nonsense and getting carried away with silly shenanigans, she was always the voice of reason. Did anyone ever listen? Nope. But therein is the joke.
What’s interesting is that this aspect of her character wasn’t always played for laughs. See, Lisa is something of a loner. Unlike Bart, who frequently spent time with Millhouse or Nelson, Lisa was usually on her own. In fact, she was downright unpopular with her peers.
This was used to wonderful effect in the episode ‘Lisa’s Substitute.’ As the title might suggest, this episode focuses on a substitute teacher, Mr. Bergstrom, that Lisa quickly becomes attached to. Not only does Bergstrom acknowledge and praise her intellect, he also provides some good parenting advice on her behalf to Homer.
Then, just as quickly as he entered her life, he leaves it. But before he goes, he hands her a note. He tells her that every time she feels lonely, she just needs to remember the words written on that note. And what does that note say?
It’s such a simple but powerful message. One that Lisa very often needed to hear. Hell, I’d bet that tons of smarter, more introverted kids could do to hear it.
At this point, it should go without saying that such depth is completely absent from Modern Simpsons. Lisa is still written to be the voice of reason in a world of absurdity, but all the emotional depth that goes along with that is long gone. Never is Lisa portrayed as emotionally vulnerable. She’s either right and everyone ignores her or she’s wrong. That’s the end of that.
Sometimes, her intelligence was written to be a bad thing. Mainly in that it fueled her ego. And should that ego be threatened… well, Lisa would go to some pretty petty depths to make sure that never happened.
A good example of this can be found in the season six episode, ‘Lisa’s Rival.’ Here, a new girl, Allison, arrives at school and immediately outshines Lisa’s intelligence. Allison even outshines Lisa at saxophone play. Every attempt Lisa makes to outshine her new rival ends in failure.
In her desperation to win, she turns to an unexpected ally: Bart. Together, they sabotage Allison in the school’s diorama competition, humiliating her in front of the entire student body. Only at this point does Lisa get over herself and do the right thing, admitting to the prank and returning Allison’s original diorama.
Then Ralph won anyways, thus claiming his revenge for that time Lisa broke his heart.
Lisa wasn’t just a smarty-pants. She was also an activist. Mostly politically, but she was never picky. If she found something she deemed to be an issue, she’d go out of her way to fix it.
It’s just as Flanders says: “Here comes Lisa Simpson, the answer to a question no one asked!”
A great example of this is the episode ‘The Old Man and the Lisa.’ After Mr. Burns loses his fortune, Lisa helps him start up again with a small recycling business. Predictably, Mr. Burns finds a way to turn Lisa’s well-meaning goal into a horribly evil capitalist empire.
Oh yeah, she also gave Homer alcohol poisoning in the same episode because she wanted to recycle the beer cans. The ends justify the means to Lisa Simpson. At least, until the ends and the means become downright evil.
Pick a cause and Lisa has probably fought for it. Corruption in politics, veganism, gender roles in society, you name it. She even went to war with the latest trends.
This is one of the more disgusting changes made in Modern Simpsons. See, Lisa is no longer the character who goes against the trends and fights for positive change. Now, she actively worships the one thing she used to be so fervently against!
It’s especially bad with celebrity cameos. Like the time she asked J.K. Rowling to tell her that Harry Potter ends with her (Lisa) marrying Harry. Or that time she performed with Lady Gaga. Because those are both things that Lisa Simpson would do.
Hey, remember when Lisa was smart enough to see through the corruption in the police force and the jail system? Yeah, that’s dead and gone. Modern Lisa would probably be a Blue Lives Matter activist.
Lisa’s de-evolution is probably the most obvious and depressing of the lot. Whereas once she was smart and driven, now she’s dumb and lazy. All the depth that made her so entertaining is dead and buried. Now she’s just a shill for many of the things she originally sought to destroy.
This is what happens when you try to make friends with salad.