I haven’t really watched The Simpsons on a regular basis for years. I grew up on it and seeing what it is now just doesn’t interested me anymore. Like Star Wars, I guess people of different ages have their own favorites during the 30-plus years.
It was about 30 years ago when during the fourth season when most of the memorable episodes aired, The Simpsons‘ episode “I Love Lisa” tackled Valentine’s Day with a sharp but sweet story of young crushes. At Springfield Elementary School, the kids are passing out their Valentine’s in Miss Hoover’s second grade class. However, the gullible but likeable Ralph Wiggum (voiced by Nancy Cartwright) hasn’t received a single Valentine. Spotting this, Lisa Simpsons (voiced by Yeardley Smith) decides to erase the name on one she was going to give someone else and writes Ralph’s name down and hands it to him.
It’s a simple card of a train with a smiling face that reads “I Choo Choo Choose You.” However, Ralph misinterprets Lisa’s gesture and crushes on her badly. Lisa tolerates Ralph wanting to walk home with her but things get worse when Ralph drops off a Malibu Stacey convertible with two free tickets to a Krusty the Clown Anniversary Show. Reluctantly, she goes with Ralph but when they are spotted by Krusty (voiced by Dan Castellanata), he puts the spotlight on them. During questioning, Krusty jokes if Lisa is Ralph’s girlfriend, which he happily replies saying he wants to marry her. But Lisa freaks out tells Ralph she only gave him the Valentine out of sympathy to which he becomes hurt and sadden.
At the same time, the school is preparing for a President’s Day program in which Ralph’s father Chief Clancy Wiggum (voiced by Hank Azaria) uses his inept police work to get Ralph the lead as George Washington, by putting a boot on Miss Hoover’s car until she signals he has the role. Lisa will be playing Martha Washington in the program. This leads to Ralph using his pain and hurt to surprise people with his performance.
The episode also has some of its best gags as it opens with a radio deejay on KBBL accidentally playing “Monster Mash” by Bobby Pickitt and refusing to admit to another deejay he made a mistake. Then, there’s the President Day program which begins with Rod and Todd Flanders and other ancillary characters like Richard playing some of the lesser known presidents such as Zachary Taylor, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore and William Harrison. The student playing Harrison has the best line as he sings, “I died in 30 days!” proudly.
There’s also a scene of Milhouse (voiced by Pamela Hayden) as Abraham Lincoln being shot with a nerf gun by Bart Simpsons (voiced by Cartwright) who is doing a Arnold Schwarzenegger T-800 accent “Hasta la vista, Abie!” In the end, Lisa and Ralph make up and she hands him a card with a smiley face bee reading, “Let’s Bee Friends.”
Al Jean, one of the writers and producers on the show, said the inspiration was an incident that happened when he was a kid and gotten a card also reading, “I Choo Choo Choose You” from a girl but wondered if she actually liked him. The episode was written by Frank Mula who passed away around Christmastime in 2021. Wes Archer was the director. It was the first time the family connection between Ralph and Chief Wiggum was made even though Ralph had been referred to as Wiggum in a previous episode.
While Ralph has become more of an Internet meme in recent years and since the 1993 episode has become more of a sillier character, this episode does him justice. There’s something about the scene where Ralph gets his heart broken only for Bart to have videotaped it and showing Lisa you can pinpoint the moment is both funny and sad at the same time. The episode looks at the heartbreak that comes with young crushes. Who hasn’t misread an act of kindness as something more?
Even though the jokes had waned by the time the episode aired, but Krusty giving Chief Wiggum the tickets after being spotted at a porno theater was a reference to Paul Reubens, aka Pee-wee Herman, being arrested at a porno theater in Florida. Krusty is even doing hand gestures similar to the ones Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) made while at a porno theater in Taxi Driver. The anniversary show is great as well as we see clips of Krusty being bored by Robert Frost reciting “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” and a clip from 1973 where Krusty performs “Break on Through (To the Other Side)” in a crazy pscyhedelic musical where he comments “What was I on?”
All and all, it’s one of the greatest episodes because of all that’s going on in the episode, everything goes right. It’s funny and the characters are more life-like even though they’re cartoons. This was when critics were starting to see the show as more than a cartoon. Every joke lands the best and every gag works. But like I said, we can relate to what both Lisa and Ralph are going through. And I think that’s what makes the show still as fresh today as it was 30 years ago.
What do you think? Please comment.